17 Ways to Enjoy the Iowa State Fair

Nothing Compares to Iowa State Fair Thrills

August 10-20, 2017 Des Moines, Iowa

I enjoy fairs of all sorts and sizes: craft, pottery, art and state and county fairs. Wherever there is a group of like-minded people happily gathered showcasing their talents, I’m delighted to join.

I’ve attended the internationally acclaimed Iowa State Fair twice. In 2016, I was mostly a spectator. I applauded a friend as her family was honored with a Century Farm Award presented in the Pioneer Livestock Pavilion.

I then joined her at a friend’s nationally known “Thank a Farmer” magic show in the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. I spent most of the afternoon watching talented Iowa youth at the Bill Riley Talent Search, including the daughter of a fellow Iowa State graduate I hadn’t seen in 30 years. We re-connected between performances and applause.

Iowa State Fair

The Iowa State Fair is the single largest event in the state of Iowa and one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. It attracts more than a million people from all over the world each year. Iowa’s Fair is also known as “America’s classic state fair” because the event features all of the traditional activities associated with state fairs in a park-like, 450-acre setting (the Fair’s home since 1886). The grounds and the adjoining 160 acres of campgrounds are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, I was included in the 120,833 people at the Fair. This time I walked nearly every inch of the fairgrounds, enjoying the sights, sounds and aromas of this great annual event. Both visits were distinct, but each enjoyable. I realized one can experience the Fair quite differently on each visit with a bit of pre-planning. I met some who attend multiple days each year and claim they see and experience it differently with each visit. That’s possible.

17 ways to Enjoy the Iowa State Fair

BEFORE YOU GO

  1. Define your purpose. Do you want a general overview experience? Are you going to ride the rides on the Midway? Do you want to see the livestock judging competitions? Are the entertainers your priority? Paid or unpaid performers? Will you sample fair foods most of the day? Are you looking forward to viewing the photography and art exhibits? Do you want to see the butter cow exhibit? Do you prefer commercial exhibits? What is it you want to get out of your experience? If you only have one day, visit the excellent Iowa State Fair website and pre-plan your visit. Print the map and schedule. Download the Iowa State Fair Food Finder app. It also includes the daily schedule of events.
  2. Purchase advance tickets. This will save you both time and money. Check the Iowa State Fair website for special admission pricing (Deals & Discounts) such as Fairgoers aged 60+. Until a couple of days before the Fair starts, one can even print tickets at home with no additional fee. Otherwise advance tickets are available in various grocery stores in Iowa.
  3. Pack accordingly. Bags are subject to inspection. Bring sunscreen, a camera and cash. While some vendors accept credit and debit cards, there is a preference for cash. A change of clothing may be necessary for small children. There are spray fountains to both cool and entertain kids. After the playground, hand wipes may be necessary. Restrooms and water fountains are readily available and well-marked. You may re-fill water bottles at fountains.
  4. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. This Fair has livestock. If you’re going to walk in the barns, closed toe shoes are best. Parking can be a distance from the entrance. Be prepared to walk, though there are courtesy golf cart shuttle rides available. The parking lots are not paved. Stroller rides can be bumpy.
  5. Preach patience. If you’re attending on the weekend, be prepared for large crowds. Though this is an extremely well-run operation, there is a lot of traffic and it can take a bit to get parked. [Remember where you parked.] The grounds, shows and events can get quite crowded. Keep in mind everyone wants to have an enjoyable Fair experience. Be patient. If there’s a show or event you must see, arrive early to get a seat.

AT THE FAIR

  1. Arrive early. Parking is $10 per vehicle. The grounds open at 7am. If you’d like to see the Fairgrounds without the crowds, arrive early. Sunrise at the Fair is spectacular. Most buildings do not open until 9:00 am.
  2. Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. This is an ideal location for young children to learn about farm animals. The building is near the North gate and has baby chickens, pigs, etc. along with educational stations where prizes are awarded for answering questions. This is a great place to see animals, if children do not have the energy to make it to the actual barns on the Fairgrounds.
  3. Variety. Butter sculpting. Yoga on the hill. Dutch oven cooking seminar. Grape stomping. Backgammon tournament. Egg rolling contest. Sheep shearing contest. The list of things to see and participate in is endless. It can be overwhelming. Pre-planning helps,  as does setting realistic expectations of what be accomplished on one visit.
  4. Accessible. ADA/Accessible parking is available, primarily in the North lot. Scooters and wheelchair rentals are also available. Keep in mind most of the parking areas are unpaved. Trams with marked stops are available once inside the grounds as are golf carts for mini-shuttle service from the parking lots to the gates. Check the Iowa State Fair website for additional services.
  5. Care Stations and ATMs. Need an aspirin or band-aid? Look for a Care Station vending machine at the Fair. Need extra cash? There are at least 30 ATM machines on location.
  6. Eat & Drink at the Fair. Outside food and beverages are not allowed. Download the Iowa State Food Finder app for a list of foods by vendor and location, including healthy foods. Beverages cups, once purchased, are re-fillable at most vendor locations for a minimal fee.
  7. From Above. Sky gliders give an overview of the fairgrounds from above. The ride is slow and easy, allowing you plenty of time to see and to take photos. There are two: east and west. Round trip is ideal.
  8. Keep it Clean. Hand sanitizer is plentiful throughout all of the animal barn areas and in all restrooms. Use it. Stop the spread of any potential disease.
  9. Talk to Them. The youth who’ve raised and are showing the animals in the barns are eager to talk about the experience. Approach them. Take an interest in their project and ask questions. Some of the most memorable conversations I had at the 2017 Fair were with a state FFA officer and an Iowa Pork Producers summer intern. These students are impressive representatives of their organizations.
  10. Check the weather. Do you need sunscreen or an umbrella? Evening Grandstand shows run late. Sometimes a light jacket or sweatshirt is necessary. Remember, to take breaks and drink plenty of water.
  11. Share. There are endless photographic moments at the Iowa State Fair. Check for hashtags and share on social media. Popular 2017 hashtags were #ISF2017 and #IowaStateFairThrills.
  12. Plan to Participate. Throughout the Iowa State Fair, you may find ways you can participate in future Fairs. Whatever your interest or hobby, find a way to work on a project and display or show at the Fair. Maybe you can’t raise a cow or pig in your neighborhood, but perhaps you can bake a Bundt cake, submit a photograph or raise a prize-winning rose or pumpkin. Be a part of one of the greatest Fairs around. Participate.

5 Favorites at 2017 Iowa State Fair: August 12th

  1. Fiddle and guitar music in Pioneer Hall
  2. West round-trip Sky glider ride
  3. Walking through the  barns early in the morning and watching youth care for their animals
  4. Horticulture gardens filled with bright, aromatic blooms
  5. Courtesy of fair goers, workers and volunteers

 

The 2018 Iowa State Fair is August 9-19, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa. Mark your calendar. Find your 5 Favorite things to do at the 2018 Iowa State Fair.

Linda Leier Thomason is a retired CEO who now writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. She’s represented the North Dakota Pork Producers as the 1979 Pork Queen and has attended countless county and state fairs promoting the pork industry. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. She is a dual graduate of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

If you have something you’d like Linda to write, contact her below.

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

4 Affordable Things to Do in Omaha on a Sunday

Have a free Sunday and need something to do? Visit Omaha. If you are lucky enough to call Omaha your home, get out and visit, or re-visit, these sites and participate these activities.

We recently did these 4 things in 4 hours on a Sunday. Click on the bold links to find more information while planning your Omaha outing or a weekend trip to Omaha.

Omaha Farmer’s Market at Aksarben Village

9am-1pm Every Sunday May 7-October 15, 2017

Tips for a Great Outing

  • Go early for free street and garage parking.
  • Find a list of vendors on the Market’s website-link in bold green above.
  • Patience required. Be prepared to dodge dogs and strollers.
  • Bring your own bags for produce (recycled grocery store bags, etc.) and a bag to put all merchandise into.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. After shopping, walk the trails or stroll through the College of St. Mary.
  • Tip the musician(s).
  • Take dollar bills so vendors don’t run out of change.
  • Bring sanitizing hand wipes. Napkins provided, but these wipes are useful for post-restroom and after eating sticky pastries.
  • Don’t eat samples without real intent to buy.
  • Be open to trying new things, especially vegetables you’ve never tasted.

Enhanced the Market by

  • Vendors hand out recipes-how to use items being sold, especially unique vegetables.
  • More vendors preparing & selling food for consumption on-site.
  • Healthier prepared food options; heavy on pastries.
  • Cooking demonstrations-how to use kohlrabi, okra, etc.
  • Multiple entertainers throughout the market.
  • Fee based pony rides for children.
  • Petting zoo.
  • Hoola-Hoop contests, etc. to engage crowd.

Gerald R. Ford Birthsite and Gardens

Little Known Facts about 38th President of USA

  • Born July 14, 1913 at 3202 Woolworth Avenue, Omaha, NE.
  • Named Leslie King, Jr. at birth.
  • Parents divorced and mother moved to her parent’s Grand Rapids, Michigan home.
  • Renamed Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. when adopted by stepfather in 1916, at age 3.
  • Most commonly known as being from Michigan.

Property Facts

  • 3202 Woolworth Avenue was 3-stories and 14 rooms
  • 1971 home burned
  • In 1974, James M. Paxson, prominent Omaha businessman, purchased it with intent to build memorial.
  • Kiosk has 4 historical narrations available.
  • Site dedicated in 1977
  • Rose garden added in 1978
  • Maintained by Omaha Parks and Rec Department
  • Free entrance
  • A Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center sits adjacent to birthplace
  • The Gerald Ford exhibit is open to the public Monday thru Friday, by appointment only. Call 402-595-1180 or email grfcc@nebraska.gov.
  • The conservation labs are not open for public tours.
  • The Ford birth site gardens are available for rent by calling 402-444-5900
  • Hanscom Park is across the street and has a pavilion available for rent

Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall

1302 Farnam Street, downtown Omaha

Located just to the north of the Old Market in the downtown area. The park sits between the Heartland of America Park on its eastern edge and the W. Dale Clark Library to the West. It is sandwiched between historical buildings and contemporary design, making the surroundings visually interesting.

Interesting Tidbits

  • Also known as Central Park or The Mall
  • Named after former Omaha Mayor Eugene A. Leahy
  • 6 acres
  • Open 5am-11pm
  • Free entrance
  • Playground with steel slides-bring cardboard to go faster
  • Walking paths
  • Lagoon with waterfowl
  • Sculpture art
  • Picnic areas
  • Visit during holiday season when lit up for the season
  • Homeless citizens do occupy the area

Café 110

1299 Farnam Street, Suite 110, corner of 13th and Farnam, near Gene Leahy Mall entrance

Hours: Monday-Friday: 8am-2pm; Closed Saturday; Sunday: 9am-12pm

  • One of best, most affordable breakfasts in Omaha.
  • Known for coffee, tea, Espresso,  smoothies, in-house made soups, sandwiches and salads along with a salad bar, fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Space is energetic and  creative. There is a loft upstairs for reading, etc.
  • Service friendly and efficient.
  • Opened in March 2012 by owner Allan Zeeck. He previously owned Benson Grind.
  • Offers off-site catering and live music.
  • Space can be rented for private parties and events, especially popular during Christmas holiday when Gene Leahy Mall is lit. Reserve early.

Omaha offers a lot of variety for residents. Find your favorite things to do.

LIKE & SHARE this post, making an Omaha outing or Omaha visit easy to plan.

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

 

 

 

3 Generations Thrilled with Nebraska Adventure

Brenda Thomason, affectionately known as “Granny” in our family, enjoys traveling. In honor of her 75th birthday we planned a trip around two of her favorites: Neil Diamond and travel.

It was a bit of a challenge. She’s not a fan of large concert arenas or crowds. That meant it wasn’t as easy as purchasing tickets for Neil’s Omaha, Nebraska performance.  Alas, a Neil Diamond Legend Show was scheduled in southwest Nebraska, simplifying the task.

The greater challenge became building side-trips along the route to and from Red Cloud, Nebraska. Joining the adventure were two twenty-somethings and his parents: 3 generations, each with its own preferences and tastes.

The result was a remarkable trip celebrating Granny’s milestone birthday,  re-connecting while listening to Neil Diamond CD’s on the journey over Nebraska highways.

Are you and your family seeking a Nebraska adventure?

Try this travel plan. Click on links for more information. See additional photographs on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Let me know what else you discovered along the way. Share photos of your trip. They may appear here.

Departure

Our first stop after leaving Omaha shortly after 9:30 am on a Friday was in

Beatrice, Nebraska

  • Located about 96 miles from Omaha, approximately 90 minutes.
  • 37 miles directly south of Lincoln on four-lane US-Highway 77.
  • Nearly 13,000 residents live here.
  • Click here for list of “Things to Do in Beatrice.”

Lunch

Back Alley Eatery

  • 124 23rd Street Beatrice, NE

We were the first diners when the restaurant opened at 11 am. Everything from the brisket platter to the pulled pork sandwich was flavorful and plentiful. The service was quick, efficient and friendly. Favorite sides included baked beans, green beans and corn muffins. The homemade coconut cream pie topped with meringue was a family favorite.

Side-Trip

Homestead National Monument of America

  • 8523 West State Highway 4
  • Located 11 minutes (6.9 miles) from Back Alley Eatery
  • Includes Heritage Center, Education Center and Freeman School

This site commemorates the lives and accomplishments of all pioneers and the changes brought about by the Homestead Act. It is staffed by well-trained  rangers. The area includes exhibits, a bookstore/gift shop, a 20-minute video, a barbed wire outdoor exhibit, a cabin and 100 acres of restored tall-grass prairie. There is plenty of information on the Homestead Act and its far-reaching effect on the development of the west. Guests can even narrate and record their own family history with the Homestead Act.

The monument salutes the Homestead Act of 1862 by preserving the 160-acres of the Act’s first claimant, Daniel Freeman. For over a century the Act allowed men and women, many immigrants, to claim and develop 160 acres of free land.

There is no park entrance fee. One can often find artists-in-residence at the Education Center. During our visit Susan Lenz, a full time, professional studio artist from Columbia, South Carolina, was present. That afternoon, she was working alongside two volunteers on a quilting project.

Destination

Red Cloud, Nebraska

  • Located 105 miles, or about an hour and 48 minutes, southwest of Beatrice (Highway 136).
  • Hometown of author Willa Cather.
  • The town also hosts a number of cultural events at the Red Cloud Opera House and The National Willa Cather Center, attracting over 10,000 visitors annually.
  • Population of 1020 residents.
  • County seat of Webster County.
  • Red Cloud is home to the largest memorial of an American author; even larger than Mark Twain’s in Hannibal, Missouri.

National Willa Cather Center was completed and dedicated in June 2017 in a ceremony where former first lady Laura Bush was the keynote speaker. Mrs. Bush also cut the ribbon to officially open the $7 million Center.

In addition to being the headquarters of the Willa Cather Foundation, the building features a climate-controlled archive, a bookstore, a museum, and conference rooms. Tours of various locations, lengths and prices are offered.

Visit the town’s website to see a number of travel packages.

Pick up a “Town Tour” brochure at the Foundation Welcome Desk. It includes 26 notable locations worth walking to or driving by.

Lodging

Cather Second Home Guest House

Willa Cather’s parents purchased this home in 1903, leaving behind their little rented home at Third and Cedar Streets where Willa Cather had spent her formative years. Over the years, the home had several private owners and also served as a hospital, nursing facility, and bed and breakfast. It was acquired by the Willa Cather Foundation in 2011 through the generosity of a Cather family descendant.

Guests may rent the Frankfort room that was Cather’s, or the rooms of her parents-Sweet Water-Virginia Cather and Moonstone -Charles Cather; or her brother Douglass’s room-Haverford. The family maid’s room Hanover, has two twin beds. The Blackhawk room is on the main floor and has an ADA entrance. It is the former family kitchen.

The entire home may also be rented for family retreats, meetings, and special occasions.

10 Tips about Staying at the Guest House

  1. Hairdryers, toiletries and bathrobes are provided, as are slippers; shoes must be removed.
  2. No pets or smoking are allowed.
  3. Continental breakfast is provided.
  4. Most rooms do not have closets; clothing hooks and luggage racks are available.
  5. The house is unattended; no innkeeper lives here.
  6. Juices, tea and coffee are available as are homemade granola and oatmeal.
  7. The kitchen is fully furnished (flatware, kettles, plates, etc.) for guest use.
  8. The home has 2.5. shared bathrooms.
  9. A washer and dryer are on the second floor.
  10. A gold plate on the back of each door locks the room from inside.

Dinner

Fat Fox’s Restaurant

Granny chose Fat Fox’s for her birthday trip celebration dinner. Their specialty is pizza; they also have daily specials. Pork chops were featured during our visit. We chose a supreme pizza that had an outstanding crust and plenty of toppings.

The restaurant was at full-capacity.

 

Notes about Fat Fox’s

  • Gluten free pizza is available.
  • Save room for homemade desserts.
  • Roasted in-shell peanuts are on each table.
  • Beer and wine are not served here. You may order pizza at The Brix-a wine tasting room down the street. It will be delivered.
  • A salad bar is offered.
  • Specials are noted on a chalkboard
  • Celebrate a special occasion here. Communicate through Facebook Messenger. The owner is responsive and does a great job helping you plan. He’s not a bad singer either.

Entertainment

Red Cloud Opera House

Our trip was planned around the Neil Diamond Tribute Show.

Keith Allynn is an award-winning entertainer. His career began in stand-up comedy at age 14, warming up for Chris Rock, Tim Allen and Robin Williams. His musical talents were discovered at age 21. In 2004 Graceland voted him one of the world’s top 10 Elvis Tribute Artists.

More recently he’s headlined the Neil Diamond Tribute Show in Branson, Missouri. There, he’s been awarded the Tribute Artist and Tribute Show of the Year and multiple Trip Advisor certificates.

His 2.5 hour show at the Red Cloud, Nebraska Opera House was sold out to an appreciative audience of 300. Keith’s voice and stage presence are top-notch. He provides fascinating history behind the songs and interacts well with the audience. Keith encourages participation, roaming the aisles, shaking hands while singing, especially pleasing to female attendees.

He will be leaving the Branson stage in 2017, making him more available for corporate events and independent shows throughout the world.

You can find Keith Allynn on Facebook. Check out his upcoming show schedule.

Notes about the Opera House

  • Beer, wine and premium mixed drinks are available for purchase.
  • Popcorn is sold.
  • Tables for 8 can be reserved.
  • Doors open 30 minutes prior to show time.
  • Bathrooms  are on both the main floor and second floor-where stage is.
  • Come early and browse exhibits on main floor.
  • Chairs are movable and do not have arm rests.
  • Ask staff prior to taking photos during performances.

Day 2

Side-Trip #1

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

  • Located 5 miles south of Red Cloud, Nebraska on the west side of Highway 281.
  • Roughly 612 acres of native prairie in southern Webster County.
  • Hiking trails are open.
  • The horizon is unbroken.
  • Purchased by the Foundation in 2006. They are working to restore the Prairie to its pre-1900’s condition.

Side-Trip #2, Unplanned Find

Geographic Center of the United States of America

  • About 14 miles south of the Prairie is the geographic center of the United States.
  • Watch for the sign to your right, traveling south on Highway 281.
  • The gravel road (K-191) will dead end into the location that includes a very small chapel.
  • It is a free attraction and open all the time.
  • Lebanon, Kansas is located 2 miles southeast of this location.
  • A small Visitor Center is in Lebanon.

Lunch

Odyssey Restaurant, Hastings, Nebraska 

The biggest surprise on the trip was the food quality at this restaurant in Hastings, Nebraska, the birthplace of Kool-Aid.

We left our meal proclaiming Odyssey as our family’s “newest food crush.”

  • Located in historic downtown Hastings at 521 West Second Street off Highway 281 North, traveling from Red Cloud, Nebraska.
  • Across from Rivoli Theatre.
  • Odyssey occupies two buildings united into one.
  • There is an outdoor patio; dogs welcome.
  • Casual, modern and innovative cuisine, including grilled Caesar salad and chocolate crème brulee.
  • The atmosphere is as appetizing as the food; get up and look at the historic maps on the walls.
  • Here’s one place you’ll like getting the check. Won’t ruin surprise.

Side-Trip #3

Holy Family Shrine

A Catholic Chapel on the highway is a place for I-80 travelers to rest, be at peace, pray and be comforted.

  • 23132 Pflug Road, PO Box 507, Gretna, NE  68028
  • Between Omaha and Lincoln off I-80, exit 432 and go south on Hwy 31 (1.3 miles), then turn west onto Pflug Road (1 mile). DETOUR July 2017 due to construction.
  • Open 10am-5pm Monday through Saturday and 12pm-5pm on Sunday.
  • Averages 20,000 visitors a year.
  • Catholic Mass Saturday mornings at 10am.
  • Open to travelers of all faiths.
  • Gift shop in visitor center.
  • Free entrance. Goodwill offering/donations accepted and needed. Not supported by Archdiocese.
  • Outside life-size walking Stations of the Cross are currently under construction.
  • Does not host any weddings, funerals, baptisms, renewal of wedding vows, proposals, or anything connected with wedding parties.

Return

Our party of 5 returned to Omaha at 4:30 PM Saturday. We’d seen and experienced so much. We are committed to doing it again. Are you?

Go Explore

Explore Nebraska. Support economic development in small, rural towns. Try something new and different. Take an overnight trip. Renew your spirit. Support the arts.

Like & SHARE this story with Willa Cather fans, backroad travelers & those who enjoy Midwest adventures.

Contact me. Did you travel this route? Share your story and photos.

©Copyright. July 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antigua: Everything You Need to Know for a Memorable Trip

I’m an island woman at heart. And, I’ve been fortunate to visit many. But, none makes me long for as quick of a return as the country of Antigua does. While the country and the resorts are stunning, the people are what I am most fond of. They are peaceful and joyful not only with guests but also with one another.

We recently spent 7 nights there, celebrating two special occasions. Here is what you need to know about the country and the culture before going.

Read on to learn about Galley Bay Resort-one of the island’s finest-and where we stay. Check out the website before booking your vacation.

Ask your questions on the form below. Share your trip experiences with me upon return. I’d like to hear about it.

Location

Antigua, the largest of the English-speaking Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, is roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. To the south are the islands of Montserrat and Guadeloupe, and to the north and west are Nevis, Saint Kitts, Saint Barts, and St. Martin. Antigua whose twin country is Barbuda, is 108 square miles and has 365 white sand beaches, all open to the public. Its capital city is St. John’s where the majority of the country’s permanent population of 81,800 (2015) live. Notable island residents include Giorgio Armani, Richard Branson, Robin Leach and Eric Clapton.

Government

Antigua and Barbuda became independent states within the Commonwealth of Nations on November 1, 1981. It is a member of the British Commonwealth under a Parliamentary system with a Prime Minister as its head. Elizabeth II is the first Queen of Antigua and Barbuda and its first Prime Minister was Vere Cornwall Bird, Sr. The airport, located in the northeast corner of Antigua, is named after him. The currency is the East Caribbean dollar; however, most prices are shown in US dollars.

Climate

There is little seasonal temperature variation in Antigua. Temperatures range from the mid-70’s to the upper-80’s, making it always feel like summer. The country’s low humidity makes it one of the most temperate climates in the world. Surprisingly, the country often experiences drought and has no waterfalls.

Economy

Tourism leads Antigua’s economy. It is its main source of both income and employment. The island is promoted as a luxury Caribbean vacation and has many resorts on the coastline. Investment banking and financial services contribute to the economy as does the growing medical school: American University of Antigua-Caribbean Medical School.

Recreation

The major sport in Antigua is cricket. Sir Vivian (“Viv”) Richards is one of the most famous Antiguans who captained the West Indies team. (Antiguans play for the Leeward Island team in domestic matches and the West Indies team internationally.) Rugby, Association Football (Soccer) and basketball are becoming popular; many follow the NBA. There are several golf courses in Antigua.

Sailing has been one of the most popular sports for years with Antigua Sailing Week and Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta being two of the region’s most reputable sailing competitions. Hundreds of yachts from around the world compete around Antigua each year.

The island is a must-see destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, who come from around the globe to explore the breathtaking nearly unbroken wall of coral reef that surrounds the island.

Tourist Favorites

The Antiguan Carnival, billed as the Caribbean’s greatest summer festival, was traditionally celebrated during the Christmas season. It switched in August 1957 to a summer festival. Antiguans and visitors celebrate the emancipation of slavery annually from the end of July to the first Tuesday in August.  Music (Calypso, steel drums and soca) and dance are key elements of the celebration.

Shirley Heights located at the southern tip of Antigua is a restored military lookout (490 ft) and gun battery. It provides a spectacular view over English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour.

The buildings now serve as a restaurant and bar and host the ever-popular Sunday evening party (4-10 pm) complete with Caribbean music played on steel drums. The area provides some of the best sunset views around.

Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, Antigua is part of the Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, which also includes Clarence House and Shirley Heights. It is a cultural heritage site and marina, including shops, hotels and marina businesses. Nelson’s Dockyard hosts many sailing and yachting events and is naturally well-suited to protect ships and cargo from hurricanes because of its deeply indented shoreline.

Devil’s Bridge is a natural rock area (geologic formation) on the Atlantic coast in eastern Antigua. Legend has it that slaves went here to commit suicide. It has the most dramatic coastal scenery on the island. Care must be taken while walking the uneven, slippery area.

Clothing

Swimwear is frowned upon in public places. Shorts are generally not accepted attire for evening dining anywhere on the island. Military-type camouflage clothing is strictly prohibited by law and anyone caught wearing it can be arrested.

Driving & Shopping

Driving is on the left in Antigua. Most vehicles have the steering wheel on the right. You must get a temporary license to drive in the country. You may obtain one from the Transport Board, car rental agencies and police stations. The island-wide speed limit is 40 mph and 20 mph in urban areas.

Duty-free shopping is abundant in Antigua. Take your resort confirmation or flight information and a photo ID to qualify. Passports work just fine.

Sheer Rocks Dining

Sheer Rocks Restaurant

Many dine at Sheer Rocks- a popular Antiguan restaurant known as much for the dining experience as the food,  provided by local farmers, fishermen and artisan food producers. One can lounge on a day bed while eating next to the plunge pool. Every table offers sensational views from the tiered wood decks carved into a sheer cliff side.

First-Class Resort

Galley Bay Resort an all-inclusive, adults only beachfront resort on the Caribbean coast 10 minutes west (sunset side) of the capital city of St. John’s-is the perfect location for those seeking a quiet, restful vacation.

Galley Bay has 98 guest rooms, including the Gauguin Suites, with private plunge pools, nestled among the well-manicured gardens along the bird sanctuary lagoon.

Galley Bay has:

  • 3 open-air restaurants
  • 3 lounges
  • A near-perfect spa
  • Nightly live entertainment
  • Private beachfront dining options
  • A turtle nesting site
  • A well-stocked library and coffee/tea shop with pastry offerings
  • A well-appointed gift shop
  • Sea grapes, figs (bananas), mangoes growing on site. Staff pick flowers/greenery daily to adorn tables
  • Covered outdoor table tennis (ping-pong) and pool tables
  • A well-maintained tennis court
  • A free-form pool with plentiful shaded seating and always-available towels
  • Croquet lawn
  • Golf clubs and fishing poles available for use
  • A jogging and biking trail with complimentary bicycles and helmets
  • Complimentary water-sports and lessons with friendly staff
  • A fully equipped air-conditioned fitness center with towels, a shower and water station
  • Stocked mini-refrigerators in guest rooms
  • A Rum Shack
  • Hammocks
  • Golf cart transportation from room to dining, if needed
  • An office area near Guest Services that has Internet access
  • Bed notes placed on pillows daily
  • A Weekly Activity Sheet detailing daily tours, entertainment, restaurant hours, etc. Don’t miss the Tuesday Garden Tour.
  • A Manager’s Cocktail Party where the management team actually interacts with guests
  • A Caribbean Barbeque Buffet night with a relaxed dinner dress code
  • The most gracious, hospitable, well-trained staff
Library & Coffee Shop

What Galley Bay is not is a destination for those with American Spring Break mindsets. There’s no swim-up bar and raucous music. It is a reserved setting where travelers go to unplug and unwind. It provides a natural, relaxing setting on ¾ mile of white sandy beach front. A well-advertised dress code is strictly followed for meal services and a guest orientation on the day after arrival informs guests of available excursions and onsite offerings.

Dining at Galley Bay is an event.

Plan on 90-120 minutes to complete the five-course gourmet-style meals. There is also a Barefoot Grill for those wanting a quick bite at lunchtime. Intimate dining on the beach with private wait service is available at Ismay’s-the only restaurant not included in the all-inclusive rate.

Garden Tour by Curtis

The grounds of Galley Bay are noteworthy.

They are well-manicured. Register for the Tuesday Garden Tour to learn more about the “Master Plan” and about what it takes to maintain the immaculate landscaping.

Guest service at Galley Bay is superior, top to bottom. Arriving, one is greeted and then presented with a cloth to cool off and handed a refreshing beverage before checking in. After, you are driven by golf cart to your accommodations. All dining and lounge staff are friendly without being intrusive. Everything is done to please guests and to encourage them to have a memorable, pleasant stay. Need something. Ask.

The Resort is a special occasion destination for many.

Anniversary and birthday guests receive a complimentary bottle of chilled champagne, as do returning guests. Resort staff seem encouraged to remember guest names and one frequently sees interactions between staff and guests that looks more familial than business. It’s a warm, welcoming site. Many guests arrive as strangers and leave as friends, it’s that kind of setting.

Helpful Tips while planning for your stay at Galley Bay Resort

  1. The resort does not accept American Express.
  2. Take insect repellent for evening walks and activities. They spray the resort but repellent is helpful.
  3. You are not required to tip. The service is so good, you will want to. Have cash. If you run out, you can get some at the front desk and will be charged a service fee.
  4. Pack your patience, meal service is long, but worth the experience.
  5. If you stay in a cottage, bring the lounge cushions in overnight to keep them humidity and rain free.
  6. Leave the umbrella and books at home. Plenty are available at the resort.

3 notable locals who added to our remarkable visit:

  1. St. James Travel & Tours Jason Mannix reached at Jason.mannix@stjamesgroup.com was assigned as our Delta Vacations “on the ground” guide. His service was simply outstanding.
  1. Gloade’s Limousine & Transportation Service Gregson, Owner, (268)720-5727 chauffeured our all-day, all-island culture and photography tour. He provided a safe, well-appointed vehicle and took us to locations we’d never have discovered on our own. A former high school teacher, Gregson is one you should meet and spend  a day with exploring Antigua.
  1. Joe from Photogenesis Imaging

We documented our 25th Wedding Anniversary by hiring Joe from Photogenesis Imaging. He made  us feel comfortable in front of the camera and was very familiar with Galley Bay Resort. He took photographs to cherish for a lifetime. We were even able to create a canvas from his photographic work.

SHARE with those planning a honeymoon or other special occasion AND those in need of unplugging and re-charging. Let Galley Bay Resort know I referred you. [I am not paid for endorsements and receive no commission for the referral.]

More information can be found by clicking Best Antigua.

What questions do you have before booking a vacation to Antigua? Ask me.

 

 

Fashion art products created from photographic images taken in Antigua can be found at the “Linda’s Store” tab above under #1 Vida Design Studio. Thank you for your support of my small business shop.

©Copyright. July 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need for Life Adventure Led to Renowned Spine Center

This is a story about a Bismarck, North Dakota collegiate soccer player seeking an adventure in life and finding his way to the largest specialized care hospital in the United States. The Shepherd Center is a private, not-for-profit hospital located in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain and other neuromuscular conditions. Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. Josh Zottnick is the Lead Exercise Specialist in the Center’s Beyond Therapy® program.

Education is Key

Josh, the second oldest of accountant Doug (deceased) and nurse Barb’s four children, was anxious to see more of the world after graduating from Bismarck’s University of Mary with a BS in Athletic Training & Sports Medicine. A chat with a childhood friend introduced him to the Exercise Physiology program at the University of Georgia (Athens) where he earned his Masters of Education in Clinical Exercise Physiology in 2003.

Car Wreck

A friend’s car wreck, that resulted in his traumatic brain injury, drew Josh to the Shepherd Center away from his cardiac rehab work. “After my first visit with him, I was working at the Center three months later.” July 2017 marks Josh’s 12th year there. “I visited my friend several times over the first couple of weeks and saw his dramatic improvement. He was one of the lucky ones; he made a full recovery.” Seeing his friend’s traumatic ordeal inspired Josh to want to do more.

Inspire & Trust

Every day his spinal cord and traumatic brain injury outpatients inspire him. He conducts intricate strength training regimens in the weight room, cardio sessions on apparatus, assisted locomotor training on body weight supported treadmills and functional training sessions. Each of these is intended for clients to process through their activities of daily living in a more efficient manner.

Not all rehab clients are equal. The most challenging type is one who is negative and lacks hope. “A negative attitude confounds the rehab situation.”

Josh works to build rapport and develop trusting professional relationships. “When clients trust you, they see the world from a different point of view. They trust where you are taking them is the right place.

Josh is a working example of the Shepherd Center’s Mission: Helping people with a temporary or permanent disability caused by injury or disease, rebuild their lives with hope, independence and dignity. “The worst and best part of my job is seeing someone struggle and then overcome those struggles. Helping clients unlock their potential keeps me going.”

Team USA

Josh’s commitment to his profession isn’t limited to an 8-5 workday. He recently returned from Australia. Here he supported Team USA at the Adaptive Waterski World Championships.  The team won the silver medal and seven members won individual medals. Australia won gold; Italy the bronze.

Afterwards he and his wife of nearly six years, Reagan, toured Australia-yet another life adventure.

Lawncare, Mutts + Pearl Jam

Josh, 38, isn’t all work. In addition to soccer, he still plays basketball and wakeboards. “I even try to incorporate these into some client sessions.” He met Reagan playing flag football in Atlanta. “She blew me away with how she had her life together. She’s beautiful, smart, kind, fun and independent.”

When not working or participating in a sporting event, Josh “loves to do lawn care.” He’s also somewhat of a Pearl Jam fanatic, seeing them 28 times. “Their lyrics are introspective and informative. They are saying something in their songs. The music affects me on so many levels. Seeing them live is amazing.”

He and Reagan also support a friend’s animal rescue nonprofit, Mostly Mutts. They volunteer time for fundraisers and foster dogs until adoption.

Magic Wand

Josh’s hopes and dreams for the future, which he thinks someone might already be working on, include invention of an implant that will bridge across the injured area of the spinal cord. This would help people regain all of the function they had before injury and allow them to walk again.

If he could wave a magic wand for the next 20 years of his life, he’d be retired and traveling to see his kids on their college campuses for Parent’s Weekend. And, the ultimate would be taking in a UGA Bulldogs football game with them.

That’s not much to ask for a guy from North Dakota giving his time and talent to restore quality of life to 100’s of clients of the Shepherd Spine Center. Is it?

 

Please Like and Share.

One never knows whose life can be improved by working with Josh and the Shepherd Center.

 

Copyright. June 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insider Tips from Dads on Father’s Day

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. Click here to read about the history of Father’s Day.

Fathers are an important influence on a child life, no matter the age. Time is the greatest gift a father can give his child. Here’s the story of four outstanding fathers who share the joys of being a father every day, but especially on Father’s Day.

Darwyn & Jacob

“My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass.” “We’re not raising grass,” Dad would reply. “We’re raising boys.”
– Harmon Killebrew
Darwyn leads his seven-year-old son Jacob by example in both his work and personal life, just as his father Leon did. He cares about role modeling a strong work ethic. “I want Jacob to know he can do many things if he’s determined, tries his hardest and pushes through adversity.”

Darwyn is self-employed and struggles with balancing work with the demands of a young family. “From my own dad, I learned that hard work does pay off in building a solid business for years to come. But, sometimes hard choices and sacrifices are required.”

Darwyn understands his son needs him to be there for him. So, he arranges his schedule to take him to athletic practices, play with him after work and go on hikes together. Jacob knows he matters to his dad; Darwyn follows through on his promises by showing up and telling him he loves him.

The two of them bond over sports and watching action movies. And, Jacob is always up for trying new things and giving them 100 percent. He’s taken up golf and baseball, often making his dad chase a long one down the street. He helps Darwyn fix things around the house “so we don’t have to buy new things every time something breaks.”

Jacob learns from his dad by watching him and spending time with him. He’s seeing how to treat others with respect, to own up to his mistakes and fix it for the next time and to be nice to his teammates on the baseball field, understanding everyone is there to learn the game.

The greatest lesson Jacob is learning from his dad, “Everything will fall into place if you know and serve the Lord.”

 Jim & Trenten

“The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them.”
– Confucius
Jim values time with his 12-year-old son, Trenten. “I hope he now recognizes the amount of time we spent together and the priority he is in my life.” The two share hunting, travel and dogs in common. The specific interest gives them time together to enjoy it while also talking about school, sports and life. Jim especially likes traveling with Trenten. “It’s amazing what I can learn traveling 8-10 hours in a vehicle with him.”

Jim learned a lot from his grandpa who spent time fishing and talking about farming and school with him. “He passed away in 1986, but there are many times I wish Trenten was able to meet him.”

Trenten, who comes across as shy, is described as funny and smart by his dad. Jim’s now speaking to him about growing into a man. Trenten’s learning not to make promises he cannot keep. He’s been taught his word is the only thing in life no one can take away from him. Trenten has seen that by working hard things will fall into place. He knows the world does not owe him anything and that he is capable of doing anything he wants, if he sets his mind to it.

Jim, a banker, teaches Trenten about money. “I like to present him with options so he understands real costs. Everything is about choices. For instance, if he buys something, what is he not able to do since he spent his money.”

At this age, Jim urges Trenten to have fun and find something in life he’s passionate about. “He will spend the rest of his life working and worrying. I also encourage him to make friends with everyone. One never knows when someone you meet might be in a place to help you out one day.”

 Michael & Noah

“A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”
— Billy Graham, Christian Evangelist

Michael and seven-year-old Noah have rituals, like the donut shop. Every Saturday morning, they head out to eat donuts while talking and laughing. Usually they leave with some for the girls back home-mother and younger sister.

They have other notable rituals. Their daily drive to school starts with a prayer followed by a game of guessing what types of trucks will be in the gym parking lot as they drive by. They celebrate their appreciation of superheroes like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers with Friday night pizza and movie nights, mom and sister included.

Their shared enjoyment of music has them singing and dancing along to Christian Hip-Hop songs. They play catch football and shoot hoops and enjoy watching NFL games. Noah has attended a Nebraska Cornhuskers football game, his dad’s favorite team, but has started rooting for the Iowa Hawkeyes, to get under Michael’s skin.

Michael knows it’s during these shared activities and rituals that he will get honest feedback on what Noah is going through. Michael loves talking to his son. “Noah’s laugh and sense of humor are infectious.”

Michael wants Noah to know he works hard to be a great role model to him. Like his father, Bill, demonstrated, Michael wants to show Noah how to be a good husband by showing affection for his wife and doing nice things for her. “I let Noah be part of this process too. He has good insight and it’s a great teaching moment.”

Michael’s greatest wish for Noah is to know who he is and to love others as Christ loves us. He’s also teaching him:

  • We control how we react to situations.
  • There are consequences for choices made (good and bad).
  • It’s okay to fail, do your best.
  • Protect and lead your family.
  • God is the ultimate Superhero.

 Ken & Alex

“When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.”
– Jewish Proverb

Ken’s son, Alex, at age 22, is a young adult. Much of the way Ken parented was role modeled for him by his father, Lee, who was “an extremely kind and respectful man with a very strong work ethic. He was a leader who taught me how to overcome adversity and take responsibility for supporting my family.”

Ken strives hard to role model ‘integrity’ for Alex. “I want him to do things with honesty, the right way and live by the Golden Rule.” He wants nothing more for Alex than for him to be happy and to live a fulfilled life-on his terms.

“I want him to make the most of his life doing what he desires and knowing that he can, and more likely will, make adjustments along the way.” Ken also knows that if Alex chooses to be a husband and father, he will need to compromise and serve others to experience a fulfilled life.

Ken’s done his best to prepare Alex for adulthood by teaching him to:

  • Be accountable for his actions. Take responsibility and own it.
  • Be a good role model for others.
  • Be appreciative and thankful for the blessings he has in life. Much of what one attains in life comes through the help of others. Do not take people for granted and express your genuine gratitude. Be willing to give freely of oneself without an expectation of something in return.
  • Have fun. Life should be enjoyed. It is up to you to discover your own passion and create your own happiness.

Through the years, Ken and Alex have created a bond and enjoyed life through sports, household and yard projects and business ventures. They share an obsession with Louisville Cardinals team sports and watching sporting events on television and at games.

The two have painted many home interiors together and enhanced yards through landscaping. They have created and implemented business plans, some successfully, others not.  They’ve jointly discovered their passions, had fun and felt a sense of accomplishment.

Ken feels he’s raised a genuinely good and caring son who has a “great head on his shoulders and makes wise decisions.” He’s proud that Alex has “stayed out of trouble” and shown he knows the difference between right and wrong. “I feel confident Alex has an extremely bright future ahead of him, both personally and professionally. It has been fulfilling and rewarding to be Alex’s father. He has brought more joy into my life than I could have hoped for. He is an incredible son whom I love so much.”

  A Dad is

Respected because he gives his children leadership.
Appreciated because he gives his children care.
Valued because he gives his children time.
Loved because he gives his children the 1 thing they treasure most-himself.

Happy Father’s Day to fathers everywhere.

 

©Copyright. June 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Be Promoted? Get a Pioneering Mindset

Automotive Executive’s Pioneering Mindset

Want to understand automotive executive Ron Meier? Grab a copy of Willa Cather’s My Antonio-a 1918 published novel that’s stuck with him for decades. In the late 1800’s story, Jim and Antonio’s families settle on the Nebraska prairie. Though their lives take very different paths, they remain lifetime platonic friends. Throughout the book, Cather captures the great American spirit, portrays the vast landscape and reveals the mindset, determination and willpower of the pioneering people. “The characters and setting bring North Dakota childhood memories back to me and remind me of the many who’ve come in and out of my life over time,” reflects Ron.

Natural Pioneer

Ron’s attraction to pioneering stories comes naturally. In the fall of 1966, the Meier family of seven relocated from rural south central North Dakota to Ypsilanti, Michigan. Worn out by farming, Mr. Meier boarded a train for Michigan where he secured a Ford Motor Company job. After finding housing, he sent for his family who moved the day after Thanksgiving, pulling a small rental trailer behind their car.

Ron is adaptable to relocations. To date, he has lived in eight places, mostly for work advancements. Today he and Karen, his wife of 35 years, reside in southern California. They are the proud parents of five sons and a daughter. Their lives are blessed with two grandchildren and two more are expected in 2017. Theirs is a full and rich life created by the personality traits Cather used to describe pioneering Midwesterners: hardworking, faithful, persistent and determined.

Rising through the Ranks of the Automotive Industry

Ron worked his way up the automotive industry career ladder using these pioneering traits. In 1978, he started as an hourly employee in the Hydra-matic transmission factory (a division of General Motors). Today he is the Western Executive Regional Director for Chevrolet in Moorpark, California. He’s responsible for sales in 13 western states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

His path was anything but a paved highway. Along the way, he was an apprentice powerplant mechanic and a Journeyman (skilled tradesman) powerplant mechanic at Hydra-matic. He paid his own way through night school, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration (Accounting and Finance) degree in 1984. He then was a salaried cost accountant at Hydra-matic. His MBA in International Business followed in 1990.

General Motors World Headquarters then offered him a staff assistant role in the GM corporate accounting and finance department. In 1995, he became a GM administrator working in numerous staff functions as a people leader. Four years later (1999) he was relocated to the field staff as a financial administrator supporting the GM Sales, Service and Marketing staff.

Ron became a Buick and GMC Zone Manager (OH, MI, PA and KY) in 2007 and was promoted to Senior Zone Manager (IL, IN and WI) in 2013 before promotion to his current role of Western Executive Regional Director.

“I’ve stayed with GM because I’ve developed a passion for what I do. Additionally, I work around some of the best and brightest people in the industry. GM has evolved into a well-run, innovative and dynamic company in a dynamic industry.”

Recession & Celebrity at GMC

Ron’s most memorable career experience is the 2008-9 economic recession. “These were troubled times filled with high anxiety. No one knew how things would turn out. In times like these, it becomes abundantly clear how important faith, hard work, focus and the values instilled in childhood are in overcoming adversity.”

Because of what Ron does professionally, throughout his career, he has had the opportunity to meet many public figures like Peyton Manning, Shaquille O’Neal, Erin Andrews, Fred Couples, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, and more. Meeting these individuals makes him realize that people generally have the same hopes, fears, concerns, etc. no matter how famous they are. “They just perform on a larger stage.”

Leadership

Ron’s first leadership role was drum major for his high school marching band. “Back in those days one was chosen based on musicianship, physical ability and leadership. I realized then that people do not necessarily follow you because of your title, but they will follow you if you lead them.”

Traits of a Good Leader

  1. A good leader sees diversity of his group as a strength and finds ways to extract the best thinking from its members. “Over the years, I’ve found when people understand how what they do fits into the overall success of the organization and they feel they’ve contributed to that success, I’m on my way to developing an engaged, high-performing team.”
  2. People relate to leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and show some humanity.
  3. A good leader is also a good teacher.
  4. A good leader is a powerful and prolific communicator who not only focuses his group on what needs to be done but also the “why” behind the “what.”
  5. A good leader defines what success looks like and effectively conveys how this success benefits the entire group.

Selecting Leaders

Ron looks for several characteristics in leaders. “You don’t need to be a leader of people to possess these characteristics. Each is important in business. You are more likely to succeed if you can build an organizational culture where these are valued.”

  1. Personal Capability
  2. Results Oriented
  3. Acceptance of Responsibility
  4. Accountability for Results
  5. Strong Interpersonal Skills
  6. Being a Change Agent through Innovation
  7. Strong Character and Integrity

Principles & Values

“The dumbest mistake I made in my early life was thinking that reaching out to others for help or guidance was a sign of weakness.” Through conversations with others and a lot of self-reflection, Ron’s realized reaching out to the right people at the right time can be a smart move. “It enables you to get a fresh perspective and resolve a lot of issues, perhaps more quickly.”

Live By

  1. Be Responsible– “Own It”- Doing so helps one acknowledge his mistakes, take corrective action and learn from mistakes rather than pointing fingers at others or circumstances.
  2. Be Self-Motivated-No need to wait for an invitation to do what needs to be done…do it!
  3. Put Others First-Be part of something bigger than yourself. While some self-indulgence can be healthy, the majority of time should be spent in service of others.

UpSide of Downs a 501(c) (3) Non-Profit Organization

Ron and Karen put these principles to use in 1996 shortly after their son Steven was born with Downs Syndrome. They created UpSide of Downs in response to a lack of helpful information for parents and caregivers of these children. “We wanted current and less depressing information.” Initially they assembled materials into a booklet but today have a website that has branched into an informational source for caregivers of special needs children, adults and captives of dementia disease.

Not on the Golf Course

One’s not likely to find Ron on the golf course. “If pressed into service because of work, I’ll go and have a good time. But, the amount of time needed to become decent makes me turn away from the game.” Instead Ron spends as much time as he can with his family, attends church regularly and works on projects around the house, whittling away his “to-do” list.

Ron’s greatest joy comes from the blessings of seeing what wonderful people his children have developed into and the fine people they’ve married. Seeing the legacy being passed on in the parenting of their children is an added bonus.

Happy and Proud Influencers

If asked, Ron’s three cited influencers would likely list the same source of personal joy. Each of them possesses pioneering traits similar to the characters in Cather’s My Antonio. His dad Steve had a strong work ethic, a deep Catholic faith, a sense of humor and was known for how well he treated people. His mom Margaret taught him the skills for living and values that kept him on the straight and narrow. And, his wife Karen, the mother of their six children (two with Down Syndrome), has been a gift to his life. She managed their family life while he completed two degrees, primarily through night school; navigated many corporate relocations and supported him through his own life’s journey.

Share this with others who will learn from Ron’s journey and approach to life, especially those seeking to be leaders with a pioneering mindset.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who has hired and developed  teams of professionals. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. Today she consults and writes for organizations and conducts undercover visits to improve guest and visitor experiences.

© Copyright. April 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

How can I help your organization grow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Wouldn’t Want to Do This in Southeast Nebraska?

Southeast Nebraska is a land of plenty with something for everyone. This area-one hour south of Omaha-is filled with history, unique festivals and events, and picturesque landscapes.

Here’s an overview of 4 communities we recently visited.

Website links are provided to help you plan your own adventure.

Brownville

Brownville (pop. 132)-a quaint village on the Missouri River-is on the National Register of Historic Places. Put on your walking shoes and check out the museums, the riverfront, the theatre and the concert series. Take a dinner cruise. Shop Memorial Day weekend and each fall at the Annual Brownville Flea Market. Stay overnight-perhaps at the River Inn Resort.

There’s plenty to see and explore.

60th Annual Flea Market

Helpful Hint: Call ahead if there’s a particular business or museum you’d like to visit. Most weren’t open during website-posted store hours on our Easter weekend visit. Brownville is an event-based community. Plan ahead if you are visiting during an event. Lodging sells out.

Sweetwater Brooms & Engraving- Broom Maker
Brooms made by hand-last a lifetime.

Whiskey Run Creek Vineyard & Winery

Every once in a while one encounters someone who leaves a forever positive impression. Matthew Heskett did just that. Matt is a sixth-generation farmer and son of proprietors, Ron and Sherry. He’s a 20-something entrepreneur with some of the savviest customer service skills we’ve encountered in Nebraska. He knew his community and his industry like a seasoned pro. Matt is an outstanding ambassador for both his business and Southeast Nebraska. Go meet him at the winery.

We toured the historic 1866 cave (year-round 55 degree temperature) and the 100-year old barn. Inside we sampled wines, checked out the gift shop and viewed the event location upstairs. Matt even showed us the production facility and explained the construction where a distillery is being added. We will return for more award-winning wine and old-fashioned hospitality.

Helpful Hint: Friday nights May through August they host live musical performances. Weddings can be held on location by the gazebo and waterfall.

Auburn

We drove a short distance on Highway 36 west to Auburn for lunch since none of Brownville’s restaurants were open. Two restaurants were consistently recommended: Hickory Road BBQ and El-Portal Mexican Restaurant.

We chose the former. The food quality and service were both outstanding.

Peru

This town of just over 800 is home to Nebraska’s first college (1867). Back then it was known as the teacher’s training school. Today Peru State College has around 2400 students.

Walk the historic, picturesque campus. Be sure to see the Little Red Schoolhouse

Drive to the Mt. Vernon Cemetery and see the historical grave markers. This hilltop location is also a Tri-State Observation Area (Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri).

Pack the bicycles and ride the Steamboat Trace Trail (found at north end of 5th street) between Brownville and Nebraska City. You can also hike it and enjoy birding along the way.

Stop in for a meal, a cool drink and a game of pool while in Peru.

Peru boasts a number of attractive city parks, including Sid Brown Memorial Park. Young children enjoy the splash pad during warm summer months.

A boat ramp to the Missouri River is accessible at 5th and Olive Street. The Peru Bottoms Wildlife Management Area (The Bottoms) is along the route, and beyond, and is available for hunting, fishing and birding.

Lied Lodge at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City

Nebraska is the proud home of Arbor Day. Founded in 1972 by J. Sterling Morton (whose son founded Morton Salt Company), Arbor Day encourages citizens worldwide to plant trees.

The 140-room, award-winning Lodge at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City is a sought-after gathering place for those who care deeply about the natural world and its future. It features the Timber Dining Room, a spa, sauna, exercise room, Olympic-sized pool, bar and conference center.

Like most lodging facilities, it is only as good as the guests staying there. During our rainy, holiday weekend stay, families crammed the pool with over-sized floats, leaving little room to enjoy the facilities in the naturally peaceful setting. Floors outside the pool area were wet and slippery. Under-aged, unsupervised guests occupied the sauna. (Safety concerns were reported to front desk staff.)

Helpful Hint: Stay mid-week or on a non-holiday weekend if you are seeking a peaceful retreat.

Visit the Arbor Day Farm website for things to do and trails to walk.

Get a ticket to the Tree Adventure. Educational and fun for all ages.

 

Walk the trails; listen to the forest

Include Indian Cave State Park on your list of things to do in Southeast Nebraska. The park has 3000+ acres and is southeast of Nemaha, along the Missouri River. Check out the large sandstone cave in the park.

Get out and explore Southeast Nebraska. visitsoutheastnebraska.org

Create your own family memories and enjoy all that Nebraska offers.

 

Linda Leier Thomason is the founder and former CEO of  a Charleston, SC based event production and publication corporation. Today, she resides in Omaha, NE  where she writes about her undercover visits to towns and communities, among other things. To learn more about Linda, click on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Contact me to have your town or community featured.

©Copyright. April 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Insider Tips for College Graduates on the Job Hunt

You’ve achieved a major life milestone. You earned a college degree and are ready to join the workforce. Congratulations!

As you begin searching for your first career position, keep these insider tips in mind.

Make a Schedule & Show up Daily

Looking for a job is much like having a job. It requires commitment, dedication and perseverance. Create a schedule and stick to it. Get up each day knowing what you need to accomplish and prepare a list of things-to-do for the next day. Part of those tasks should include networking, prospecting, completing applications, going on interviews and creating and updating a spreadsheet to keep track of all activity by employer.

Try not to get discouraged. Finding a job is hard work. Finding a job that fits into your ideal career path is even harder. Put in the work for the best results.

Do a Personal Inventory

You’ve likely taken a career-ready course in college. There you identified your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you listed industries or companies you’d be interested in as a career. Sit back for a few moments (not days) and do another personal assessment. Think about a career, not just getting a job. Reflect.

Why?

Are you pursuing a certain job because it’s your passion? Or, did your parents guide you into this career field? Is money your primary motivator? Should it be? Are you only looking in a particular industry because you completed an internship there? What job functions excite you enough to hop out of bed each morning looking forward to work? You must know yourself, your interests and your skill set well before you can realistically sell yourself to an employer. Don’t use the excuse that you’re too young or inexperienced to do this inventory or you will be hopping from job to job rather than settling into a focused career.

Understand Your Brand & Review Your Public Image

Understand you’re marketing yourself to prospective employers as a brand. What kind of impression are you making online? Quickly check. Do a Google search on yourself. What will an employer see? What photos of you are on Facebook and Instagram? Do you have endless juvenile sounding or drunken rants on Twitter? Do you participate in high risk activities that a recruiter or company will see as a liability?

You’ve graduated. Now it’s time to clean up your social media sites. Remove all party, beach and prom photos. Put a professionally dressed image of yourself on your LinkedIn profile. Don’t shut down your sites. Employers want to see that you have personality and creativity and know how to use these marketing tools. Just keep them clean and professional. Read everything. Make sure you don’t have grammar and spelling errors and that all content and dates are consistent.

Brag about It

Today every employer will log on to see if your public profile is a good fit or match for their organizational culture. Keep or put things on these social media sites that don’t necessarily fit on a resume. Did you win a huge award or invent something remarkable? Post a photo and description. You know they will be looking. Let them see how great you are and what an ideal fit you’d be with their company.

Network Online

More people network today online than in person. Add connections to your LinkedIn profile. Search out professionals who have a job you’d like to have. Connect. Ask them about their job and seek their guidance on how to be successful in that job and industry. Maybe they will invite you to visit with them at their office or on the telephone. Depending on how well you relate, this LinkedIn connection could become a career mentor.

At a certain point, it might be appropriate to ask for introductions to hiring managers within the company. Usually referrals from employees within a company are given greater weight than unknown candidates. Find someone to advocate for you within the company you want to work with. LinkedIn is a great way to achieve this.

Customize Your Resume

Most college students graduate having written a resume. If not, there are plenty of online sources for help. Take yours and review it and update it with these tips:

  • You have 6 seconds to make an impression on the first person reading your resume.
  • Think like the boss. What part of your work or internship history would (s)he be most interested in or care about? Feature these.
  • A boss cares about meeting company goals and objectives, first and foremost. Focusing on what you can do for the organization will make you stand out.
  • Get to the point quickly with a summary of your tops skills and achievements. Highlight what you’ve done that matters most to the employer and how you’ve been recognized for that skill or achievement.
  • Read each job description carefully and make a list of keywords. These are words you see repeatedly in the posting under “qualifications” and “requirements.” Make sure you meet all of the job requirements. If so, include these keywords in all documents (cover letter, email, resume, online application, etc.) submitted to the company.
  • Customize your resume to the position. This requires extra time but shows you know what an employer is seeking from a qualified candidate. Remember, you have 6 seconds to make an impression.

Write an Impressive Cover Letter or Email

Most companies require you submit a cover letter and resume through their website. Fewer ask you to send an email and resume. Either way, make a great first impression with a cover letter. Keep it to one page. Do not repeat what is already on your resume. Instead, highlight the skills and talent you will bring to the company on the first day. Make these stand out by using 3 or 4 bullet points on the page. Always check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Research and find a name to address your communications to. It shows initiative and greater interest.

Create and Practice an Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a 30 second commercial about you. Remember, you are a brand. Sell yourself like you see a product being sold on TV. Write your pitch out. Rehearse it enough so you can recite it in a conversational manner. Avoid being cutesy or folksy.

Stick to the facts. Focus on skills that set you apart. List what value you’d immediately add to the company. Add a line about why a company should hire you. Like your resume, this pitch needs to be tweaked by organization. Anytime a friend, family member or referral source asks, “What are you looking for?” or “Tell me about yourself,” you should be able to readily give your rehearsed pitch. Be clear, concise and focused.

Practice Answering Interview Questions

You can find endless lists of interview questions online. The following 10 questions have been trending recently. Practice succinctly answering each question aloud. Ask a trusted friend, parent or mentor to give you feedback. Recent college graduates should use group project, internship and part-time work experiences to answer questions.

Many interviewers use the STAR method when asking behavioral based questions. They want you to first describe the situation and task(s). Then identify the actions and give the results when you answer their questions. If this concept is new to you, practice it. Knowing how to answer questions in this manner is expected of new graduates.

  1. Name one function you’d like to do every day at work for the remainder of your working days.
  2. Describe a time you failed, what you learned from it and how you made life or work changes from that failure.
  3. Explain Twitter to your grandparent in 140 characters or less.
  4. Describe the story of your career to date.
  5. What 3 metrics do you use to measure your own success?
  6. What 5 things do you expect from an employer?
  7. On the first day of work, what value will you immediately bring to this organization?
  8. If you had to do college over, what 1 thing would you change?
  9. Give an example of how you react when a team member isn’t doing his or her fair share of the project work.
  10. Describe your proudest moment in life to date.

Nail the Interview

Each interview method and process may be different. Some companies have a human resources staffer call and ask screening questions before inviting you to meet in person. Some prefer video conferencing as an initial screening. Others will invite you in to meet with the team you will be working with.

Treat all interviews with respect. Dress professionally for video calls. Don’t sound like you are sleeping when on a telephone screening call. Smile when on the phone and walk around, if it helps project more energy. You must make a favorable first impression to be invited for an in-person interview.

Always get the name and title of the person or people you are speaking to. It may seem dated, but it’s still appropriate to send a thank you note after each interview. Express your appreciation of their time and interest and remind them again why you are the best candidate for the job.

You may follow up with the employer after the interview, but do not send endless emails or make dozens of phone calls. Employers hire based on qualifications and interviews. Being a pest will turn off an employer.

Be sure to:

  • Research the organization and the people you will be meeting with.
  • Prepare questions you’d like answered. For example, is there a leadership training program? Do you pay for advanced education? Will I have to travel? How often? What do you like best (and least) about working here?
  • If it’s an out-of-town interview, ask about travel reimbursement before going. If they don’t offer reimbursement, find out how serious of a candidate you are before agreeing to travel.
  • Eat a nutritious meal before the interview. You don’t know how long the interview may last.
  • Try to get appointment scheduler to explain the process to you. Many companies now ask candidates to take personality and aptitude skill tests. Some interviews are progressive, meaning if you pass one test you proceed to the next part of the process. This can take hours, or even a full day. Be prepared before you go.
  • Dress appropriately. If in doubt, overdress. Never show up with pet hair on your clothing or a smoke odor.
  • Take your time answering questions. Pause. Ask for clarification. Speak clearly and loudly. Don’t become so long-winded the interviewer becomes bored. Think about the question and how your work history, skills and experiences can best benefit the organization.
  • Show interest. Ask questions throughout the interview. Remember, interviews are a two-way street. They are assessing your fit and readiness and you are determining if you’d like to work there.
  • Show some personality. It’s okay to laugh and to get to know the people you are meeting with. Afterall, you want to spend at least 8 hours a day with them.
  • End each interview knowing what the next steps in the process are and when they will be making a hiring decision.

Address the Elephant in the Room

The loudest complaint of recent graduates is employers want someone with experience. You must address this head on. In your personal inventory make a list of reasons you are prepared for the work place. Prove it by submitting a strong resume and cover letter. Deliver a polished elevator pitch and show up fully prepared for your interviews.

Extrapolate specific college group project experiences that relate to the work environment. Be able to describe the specific situation, action or task and the end result. Then relate this experience to the employer’s environment, keeping in mind they care more about what you can do for them and how you will advance their company.

Don’t be afraid to sell your soft skills like writing, communication and organizational skills. Highlight your technical skills like Microsoft Office Suite, statistical analysis, etc. and identify if you are advanced or efficient in each. Prove how you are a great team player and give examples of your learning style and business acumen.

Ask college professors, volunteer organization advisors and work supervisors to post a reference for you on your LinkedIn page. Be sure they highlight your work readiness and professional skills.

Keeping it Real

If you have no prior work or internship experience and only a college degree, you are at a definite disadvantage. Your resume will rank low. You won’t have key words to use or real life experiences to share. Always be truthful on your resume and in interviews because employers will verify your information before hiring you.

If this is your situation, do not infinitely prolong the job search. While searching, secure a job of some sort and prepare yourself for your ideal job.  Use the workplace as your laboratory of learning. Keep notes of examples you can use when talking with future employers. Ask for greater responsibility and prove you are workplace ready for your next job.

Share with recent college graduates seeking their 1st career position.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who has hired and developed  teams of professionals, including interns. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. She is the mother of a  December 2016 business college graduate who just landed his first career position.

Have a question about finding a job, writing a resume or drafting an elevator pitch? Need coaching?

Contact me.

©Copyright. April 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midwestern Values Led Tomlinson Straight to the Top

Sales Executive Reflects on 36 Year Career

Mike Tomlinson became a member of Aflac’s prestigious Hall of Fame in December 2015. This honor recognizes individuals who’ve had a significant career impact on Aflac’s 62-year existence. Currently, Mike is the youngest member admitted into this elite group of 17.

How did a Detroit Lakes, Minnesota  native and 28-year resident of Watertown, South Dakota reach this level in a Fortune 500 corporation that regularly lands on the annual 100 Best Companies to Work for list?

It wasn’t luck or connections. It was hard work, dedication and Midwestern values.

Father’s Influence

Mac on violin with Amazing Rhythm Aces in MN in 1920’s.

Mike’s father Mac (Marion) had the biggest impact on his life. “He was my business role model. He instilled a strong work ethic in me and extremely optimistic attitude toward business opportunity in America.” Mac founded two successful businesses and purchased another. His father, who was 72-years-old when Mike was born, retired from the day-to-day management of Tomlinson Lumber in Callaway, MN in his late 70’s. “One of the hallmarks of the lumber company’s success was treating the 50+ employees so well that they stayed long-term and performed very well,” recalled Mike. “Dad also became a Christian later in life and this had a profound impact on the business values he instilled in us.”

In retirement Mac developed a large tract of lake property that he owned in Detroit Lakes MN. Mike and his brothers and sisters worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their dad to improve and sell these lake lots, all the while learning valuable life and business lessons.

Values Guiding His Life

Mike is led by three values that guide his everyday life. They are:

  1. Tell the Truth. As his dad used to say, “Tell the truth and you only have to remember one story.”
  2. Under Promise and Over Deliver. Always meet or exceed expectations. Be careful not to overcommit.
  3. Listen More Than Talk. Ask good questions and really listen. “I was really impacted by Stephen Covey’s advice in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood’.”

Family + Music Man

Mike’s greatest joy comes from having a great family. He and wife, Michelle, have been married 40 years. They are the proud parents of three sons-Jeremy, Jesse and Jackson-and grandparents of five girls and eight boys. An ideal day for Mike, now retired from his 36 year Aflac career, is spent traveling and experiencing God’s creations and relaxing with his family.

Mike also enjoys music as a guitar player. He’s been a church worship leader for more than 25 years and played in the successful country rock band, Sagebrush, in the 1970’s. This northwest Minnesota band opened for and toured with national acts such as Black Oak Arkansas, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Bellamy Brothers, Alabama, and others.

His all-time favorite song to perform is Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Why? Because, of course, “it epitomizes having a positive attitude and pursuing your dreams.”

Cancer Experience Begins Insurance Career

Mike’s mother Ozella passed away from a nine-year battle with cancer just three months prior to his first insurance agent interview. It was the cancer policy that drew him to a long Aflac career. “Even though my parents had excellent health insurance, I could see a clear need for a cancer policy to provide additional cash benefits to cover the multitude of non-medical (travel, lodging, meals, loss of income, etc.) expenses caused by this disease.”

As a 22-year-old, Mike was astute enough to recognize a company with great opportunity for growth and advancement, if he delivered results. And, once aboard, he applauded Aflac’s commitment to fairly and quickly paying claims and thrived in the pay and promote for performance culture. “I never really considered taking on or switching to any other companies or careers.”

Rising Through Aflac Ranks

Mike’s work ethic and business savvy led him to rise quickly in Aflac. He was a District Sales Coordinator (DSC) for five years before becoming a Regional Sales Coordinator (RSC) for three. It was during this time that his favorite Aflac memory happened. His NW Minnesota Regional Team broke the Aflac all-time production record (Wall of Fame) by coordinating a complex take-over of a block of Medicare supplement business in MN. This achievement required extensive collaboration and was one of his most challenging and gratifying leadership efforts in his 36 year career.

For nearly 20 years Mike was the North and South Dakota State Sales Coordinator (SSC) before becoming the Vice-President of the Central Territory (8 states in the upper Midwest)-a position he had for six years.

He then held several senior leadership positions at corporate before his retirement, including Senior Vice President and Director of U.S. Sales. Here he oversaw 70,000 U.S. associates and coordinators (independent contractors) and a team of 225 sales employees while managing a $125 million budget and a $1.5 billion annual sales quota. Predictably, sales positively turned 10.2 percent during his tenure.

During 35 years of leadership and management Mike’s teams achieved quota 27 years, or 77 percent of the time. When he retired, U.S. President, Teresa White said, “Mike has the admiration and respect of all of us. He is an outstanding leader, not only achieving 36 years of record-breaking sales but more importantly serving as a true role model of excellence in ethics, values and performance.” Chairman and CEO Dan Amos added, “Mike is a top performer and I’ve never known a finer person or better role model. His has been an impressive and motivational journey. Along the way, he has had a direct and positive impact on thousands of lives, including mine.”

 8 Life Lessons from Leading & Managing

For nearly four decades Mike had led and managed people and organizations. He shares these observations and lessons learned during this time.

  1. The #1-character trait that leads to professional success is persistence. It trumps talent, education and intelligence, though these are important too.
  2. Most people get sidetracked by working in their business instead of on their business to reach success. It’s good to step back and enlist the perspective and help of others and assess one’s business.
  3. Once an employee has been taught his job, stand back and let him learn from hands-on effort and results. Edge them out of the nest to fly earlier on their own.
  4. Think big. Don’t let your past limit your future. And, don’t sweat the small stuff. Most of it is small stuff.
  5. Invest heavily (time and money) in developing your people. Care enough about them to be honest and candid. Identify simple metrics (skills or activity) for improvement and monitor and discuss regularly. Praise progress as people respond much better to positive feedback than negative.
  6. Count your blessings regularly and work and live your life with passion. If you can’t enjoy the majority of your work, find something else to do.
  7. Integrity is important. If someone cheats on small things like golf or a sales number, they likely will cheat on bigger things. When I find people I can give a blank check to, I will give them the utmost responsibility.
  8. Work/Life balance is important. I suffered a serious heart attack at age 46 and now work hard to balance work with an appropriate amount of exercise, sleep and relaxation. The older I’ve gotten the more important my relationship with Christ has become. It’s easier to see through a mature lens that this is the ultimate “long-term planning.”

The Near Future

Mike considers himself to be exceptionally good at developing and executing strategy and staying calm and rational in tense situations. No one who’s worked with him would argue against that self-assessment.

Now, after almost two years of retirement and travel, he plans to continue to use his years of winning business skills as a consultant in the near future.

And, how he’d like to eventually be remembered, well that’s easy: “Being a loving husband, father and grandfather.”

 

 

Share with others who’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from Mike.

©Copyright. March 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

What can I write for you? Contact me.