Where to Eat, Stay & Play in West Central Iowa

Travel West Central Iowa

West Central Iowa Fall 2019

Seeking a Midwest day trip or overnight stay?

Check out West Central Iowa locations.

This Iowa Tourism website is fantastic for trip planning. https://www.traveliowa.com/regions/west-central/9/

Click on the West Central Region and scroll near the bottom. Find all of the towns in the region with links.

Our October 12-13, 2019 Itinerary

Plan your own getaway or follow the itinerary we created and used.

Shelby, Iowa https://www.shelbyia.com

On a recent weekend, we left Omaha on a Saturday morning and drove to Shelby, Iowa.

It’s known for having the World’s Largest Corn Stalk (as seen from I-80) but on October 12, 2019 it also had a craft and vendor show.

We shopped local and enjoyed meeting and admiring the work of the talented crafters including, B&3 Boutique https://b-3-boutique-by-beth.myshopify.com/ as well as https://www.facebook.com/countrycreations3592/.

Laura S. Fell of Chalk Couture is an independent designer and chalk teacher. Find her work on Facebook at The Chalking Teacher 402.660.3468.

Stephanie McDonald’s work was simply beautiful. Her business is Papaya’s Rustic Designs. Reach her at 712.307.0256 or stepharkfeld@gmail.com.

Work of Stephanie McDonald of Papaya’s Rustic Designs

What is a fall festival without locally baked goods? The cinnamon and caramel rolls looked tempting. They didn’t disappoint.

Avoca, Iowa  http://www.cityofavoca.com

Our first stop was at the ever-popular Volkswagen Beetle Spider at 649 South Chestnut Street.

Spider Car in Avoca, Iowa

You have to get out and take a photograph there, of course.


We ventured downtown on the cold, blustery morning. We admired the Eagle of Honor Tribute and visited the Avoca Public Library. There’s a wonderful interactive music station outdoors.

Apples were being given away in the library foyer by generous local homeowners. We bought nearly-new hard covered books at the book sale. We believe in supporting local libraries.

We also picked up a copy of the “Western Iowa Visitors Guide for 2019-20” at the library.


It led us to the Octagon Building in Graceland Cemetery. This building (1875) is on the National Register for Historic Places and was a gathering place for mourners during inclement weather. The deceased could also be kept there if the ground was too frozen to permit burial.

Avoca, IA: Graceland Cemetery Octagon Building

The Cemetery itself is a picturesque location with unforgettable vistas and headstones.

Walnut, Iowa   https://walnutiowa.org/

Walnut is known as Iowa’s Antique City.

The brick streets are lined with historic buildings filled with antique and specialty shops.

Two of our favorites were Forget Me Nots Gifts Treasures and Décor www.facebook.com/ForgetMeNotsIA and Plum Krazy. https://www.facebook.com/Plum-Krazy-Vintage-More-380801965592190/

Sadly, there are no restaurants in Walnut.


Based on multiple referrals, we drove back to Avoca and lunched at the Embers Restaurant. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Embers/117491594943683

 The food was plentiful, delicious and quite reasonably priced.

Check the Avoca business directory (Restaurants) for a list of dining choices. http://www.cityofavoca.com/business-directory.php

Carson, Iowa https://www.carsongov.com

The drive from Avoca to Carson, Iowa in the fall is beautiful.

Carson is only 21 miles east of Council Bluffs, Iowa but yet seems so far away: rural, pastural setting.

Drive through the town. Get out and walk.

Be sure to see the West Nishnabotna River area.


We stayed at the Country Vineyard Retreat with Paula as our Superhost (Airbnb).

The rural property was 5 miles east of Carson off Highway 92.

Carson, Iowa lodging view

The space is large, well-appointed and ideal for anyone wanting or needing a break from city life or a long day on the road.

Part of lodging interior.

Guests are encouraged to walk the property and to enjoy the vineyard views.

Macedonia, Iowa  https://www.macedoniaiowa.com/

We drove to Macedonia after watching the Iowa State Cyclones football team defeat West Virginia.

What an awesome community.

The town’s Main Street is lined with iron railings. Each tells the story of an event, family or organization with special ties to Macedonia.

Macedonia, IA Main Street iron railings

The Grist Mill McCready Theatre is where the Fine Arts Council hosts performances. Check their Facebook page and website for performances. http://www.gristmillfinearts.com/

The Stemple Bird Museum (tours available by appointment) is at 311 Main Street and houses over 300 mounted displays.

Painted Camel Gallery on Main Street http://potterybythecreek.com/index.php is open Saturdays from 10 AM – 4 PM or by appointment. Call 712.486.2324. It’s houses hand-crafted pottery, paintings, jewelry, wooden furniture, woven rugs and so much more.


The Back Forty Restaurant and Bar http://www.backfortybarandgrill.com/ also on Main Street was referred by nearly everyone from whom we sought a dinner recommendation.

Saturday is steak special night. The prime rib, according to my husband, was great.

The place was full of diners of all ages enjoying one another’s company and watching football and volleyball games on one of many TVs throughout the space.

The service is quick and grateful.

Well-Rested Conclusion

On the commute back to Omaha via Highway 92, I asked my husband, Ken, if he felt rested. His response, “I feel like I’ve been gone for more than a day.”

That’s what a getaway to West Central Iowa can do for you.

Husband, Ken, at lodging location

Plan your trip today.

Share this with your fellow travelers. Thank you!

©October 2019. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Would you like Linda to visit and write a feature story on your community? Nominate it in the comment section below.

My 2019 Best of Omaha Winners

Legitimate List of Winners

Every summer I’m bombarded with pleas to vote this business or that as the Best of Omaha in their category. This lobbying is not unique to Omaha. It was the same deal when we lived in Sioux Falls, Charleston and Atlanta.

I’m not naive. I know this is a way to raise advertising dollars for publications. Businesses run ads begging for reader’s votes and then run another ad congratulating themselves as winners.

It’s all a bit narcissistic and self-serving.

I give little credibility to businesses topping the categories.

At best, they have a more sophisticated marketing/lobbying staff and perhaps more advertising dollars too.

Rarely do they convince me to vote for them simply because of their marketing prowess.

What Makes a Winner?

What defines best of any business category for me has remained constant for decades:

  • Exceeding customer expectations
  • Prompt and satisfactory response to customer inquiry
  • Community involvement.

Maybe I’m an odd duck—one not influenced by marketing noise, but

I Always Vote & Buy From Businesses That

  • Buy an ad on the back of a church bulletin
  • Manage a customer complaint with tact and peaceful resolution. [This doesn’t mean the customer is always right. It means they listened and offered agreeable solutions.]
  • Are led by those who hire, reward and retain outstanding staff
  • Have entrepreneurial spirit
  • Are involved in the community-sponsoring youth teams, supporting Rotary and other civic organizations and showing other ways of ownership in their hometown
  • Treat me both like a lady and a valued customer with a brain

My 2019 Best of Omaha Winners

Appliance Sales: Scott Saalfeld at Lowe’s 3333 N 147th Street Omaha NE 68116

I visited every appliance retail outlet in Omaha.

By miles, Scott knows and understands his products and his customers better than any other sales person I encountered. I felt heard and guided to the best appliances for my needs.

He is well trained on products and customer service. Scott listens. He follows through. He appears well respected by his team members and managers.

Appliance Installer: Precision Appliances (Nick) 402.680.2828

Nick does installation and repair of microwave ovens, dishwashers, ranges, dryers and washing machines.

He arrives on time. He is respectful of one’s home. He’s competent and quick. He’s self-employed and understands customer service & satisfaction.

Auto Body Repair: Dave’s Auto Body 9630 Redick Avenue Omaha, NE 68122 https://davesautobodyco.com/

I had zero auto body repair experience when entering this business. I left feeling confident in the consultation, price and process. Since our relocation to the Midwest, I have never felt more appreciated as a customer than at this Omaha business.

It’s the simple things: the owner shaking my hand and thanking me for my business while a staff member started my car and cooled it down for my exit.

Best New Product: Damp Rid Moisture Absorber-Genius of an idea; Works wonders in our basement https://damprid.com/

Carpet Cleaners: Top Gun Carpet Care Specialists 402.332.3778 http://www.topguncarpetcare.com/

This family owned business has been serving the Omaha area since 1982. They know the business and they know how to keep their customers happy, including us.

Drywaller: Alberto Salcebo 402.598.5945 20+ years in the industry (2019) Responsive, Competitive pricing, Polite.

Manicurist: Ly at Paris Nails 3665 N 129th Street Omaha, NE 68164 [formerly Pretty Nails] 402.452.7172 (mobile #)

Simply the best. Call or text her directly 402.452.7172 to schedule your appointment.

Plumber: AP Plumbing (Tony) 402.669.7249

Clogged water lines are like calculus equations to me. Foreign. Tony sent Curt to replace pipes in our home. In very lay terms, I described what I saw as the problem and his experience led him to a simple, affordable solution. Curt respected our property and cleaned up perfectly after himself. AP Plumbing is always welcome in our home.

Real Estate Agent: Megan Owens, Owens Real Estate Group at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services 402.689.4984  http://owensregroup.com/

Megan has now worked with 3 generations of my family. She connects with and guides each buyer to homes ideal for their needs.

She’s simply outstanding with customer service and deserves your business.

Strangers Paying for Our Meal at AJs Café 5146 North 90th Street Omaha, NE 68134

We’d heard about this Café from many Omaha residents. Imagine our surprise when our server told us another patron had paid for our meal after hearing it was our first time there.

People are good everywhere. This is just another example of human kindness.

Pay it forward, always.  

Tree Service: Eden Tree Pros http://edentreepros.com/

Contact them for a free consultation and estimate. We’re sure glad we did. Their response time and automated systems are built for busy family lives. And, our birch tree stood up to the Japanese beetles, again.

What does a business have to do to earn your loyalty?

SHARE your answer below.

The most important thing you can do for any business is REFER them.

And, if you’re a business that received the referral, be sure to say, “thank you” to the referring source.

Is there a business I should add to my list? Let me know.

LIKE & SHARE this post. It’s a great way to REFER a business doing good work for both customers and their community.

©August 2019. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

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 (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.


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.


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 1st Time Visitors to New York City

Make the most of your time in New York City & beyond.

New York City on a rainy June 2019 Day

NYC and I have been acquainted through business plenty of times, pre 911. I always dreaded the trip. Rush in. Frantic pace while there. Rush out. It was a “time is money” approach to life and “only the strong survive” culture and mentality.

Honestly, I never thirsted to return. Then I did. June 2019. This time as a tourist. What a difference time and purpose make.

As Frankie from Small Bus Tours NYC said, “New York City grew up post 911. It had to. We needed visitors to come back to sustain us. We needed to also start working with one another and treating people right.”

The other major difference on this visit. I never felt unsafe walking in NYC. Police presence was everywhere.

1st Time Visitor Tips

Plan Ahead. There are endless things to see and do in NYC. Make a list of Must-See Attractions and Must-Do Activities. For instance, Statue of Liberty, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ground Zero 911-Memorial, Wall Street, Broadway, Times Square, Central Park, Staten Island, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.

Prioritize what you’d like your experience to include. Look at maps before arriving. It helps when navigating when there.

Select lodging based on your Must-See and Must-Do List. Choose a central location.

Book a Small Bus Tour NYC in advance. This tour gives a great overview of NYC, including history and other “gems.” https://www.smallbustoursnyc.com/.

In 6 hours (8:30 AM and 2:30 PM departures from Times Square) you will hear about and see most NYC highlights, including a ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty to Staten Island.

Make a list of places to return to after your Small Bus Tour. Seek restaurant recommendations from the Small Bus Tours guide and driver-NYC residents.

Pack walking shoes. NYC, especially Manhattan, is best experienced on foot. You can, and should, take the subway but plan on walking-a lot. NOTE: The subway system is much cleaner and more efficient than I ever recall. It is heavily patrolled. http://web.mta.info/maps/submap.html Download this subway map to your phone.

Buy theatre tickets in advance. You can visit TKTS https://www.tdf.org/nyc/7/TKTS-ticket-booths while in NYC and get significant discounts on the day of the show. Here’s the downside. You may not see the show you really want. You will spend precious time waiting in a line.

Restrooms can be challenging to locate. Download an app like “Where is Public Toilet.” It comes in handy in NYC.

Check the forecast. Pack what’s needed for it. Rain coats and umbrellas or winter boots and parkas? Be prepared.

Avoid overscheduling. There is so much activity in the City that strolling the streets will offer plenty of entertainment.

For instance, Bryant Park https://bryantpark.org/ near Grand Central Station https://www.grandcentralterminal.com/ offers games, musical entertainment, plays, yoga, etc.

Same goes for Central Park. http://www.centralparknyc.org/

Consider staying outside the City. For example, the Metro North Line (Regional train) stops in Port Chester and Rye, NY-both towns have hotels with complimentary shuttle service to the train. If you crave a less active (noisy) evening, this option may be ideal for you. You can ride the train into the City daily and yet enjoy a peaceful, natural setting each evening.

Rideshare.  Download the Uber and/or Lyft apps before arriving. As always, follow all the safety precautions on their apps.

NOTE: Rideshare rates are flat fees. The clock on a taxi stuck in traffic keeps ticking, unless you hop in a flat rate fee-based taxi. Be aware of the fee/rate structure when deciding how to get around.


LaGuardia Airport https://laguardiaairport.com/

This airport is undergoing a major renovation. Visiting the website prior to arrival is wise. It is the closest airport to Manhattan.

If you are using Uber/Lyft to get to your destination, follow the signage to the rideshare area. You will be instructed to wait in areas marked A-D.

The wait time can be long (ours was nearly 40 minutes due to traffic congestion).

Once in the vehicle, getting out of the airport can also be quite long (ours was over 30 minutes).

Our ride to the Grand Hyatt from the airport was a flat rate of $53, mid weekday morning.

Our return Uber ride to LaGuardia Airport Concourse D from Rye, NY was fantastic. Less time. Less cost.


Grand Hyatt New York https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/new-york/grand-hyatt-new-york/nycgh

We chose this property based on our must-see and must-do list. In addition, we were taking the train north to Rye, NY after our city visit. Grand Central Station is next door. The convenience of getting to the train with luggage was worth it.

We had a Grand Central Station room view.

Yes, street noise can still be heard from the 25th floor. However, it also provided a realistic view of NYC. NOTE: If noise is an issue for you, request an inside room. Or, download a bed time fan app. It covers outside noise quite well. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ellisapps.bedtimefan&hl=en

Grand Central Station

This is a stop on the Small Bus Tours route and it is worth exploring on your own afterwards. The architecture and history of the building are worth a spot on your itinerary, even if you’re not taking the train.


Beautiful-the Carole King Musical https://beautifulonbroadway.com/

Stephen Sondheim Theatre

Outstanding production. The theatre was a very comfortable walking distance from the Grand Hyatt.

Take a light jacket. The theatre can be quite cool.

Food and beverage are available for purchase.

Central Park

Central Park Carriage Ride

We strolled from our hotel to Central Park, stopping multi times to view interesting attractions like Rockefeller Center. https://www.rockefellercenter.com/directions/

Our day in the Park was truly a trip highlight. We had no agenda. Just comfortable walking shoes and refillable water containers.

You can be spontaneous like we were, or plan your “can’t miss stops” in the Park. Check out the Central Park Website http://www.centralparknyc.org/

Highlights included:

  • Listening to the vast variety of musicians busking in the Park.
  • Watching the many talented athletes playing a variety of sports.
  • Picnicking on a park bench.
  • Enjoying remote sailboats on lake.
  • NOTE: We’d been advised against a carriage ride due to their limited route around the park. We followed the advice.

Dining in NYC

Food was not our top priority on this visit. Of course, we had a slice of New York style pizza. It was delicious! The following were referred us by multiple local residents.

Food Court in Grand Central Station https://www.grandcentralterminal.com/dining-concourse/

Urban Space https://www.urbanspacenyc.com/urbanspace-vanderbilt/

Ray’s Pizza https://www.orderfamousoriginalrayspizza.com/

Juniors for Cheesecake https://www.juniorscheesecake.com/

Applejack Diner http://www.applejackdiner.com/ Open 24 hours. Great service. Try to get an outdoor table. Right next door is a pizza by the slice restaurant that does a tremendous amount of walk-out business.

Rye, NY

Getting There

We took the Metro North Line http://www.mta.info/mnr

Metro North Line


We stayed at the Hilton Westchester. It is a full-service hotel on immaculately maintained grounds. https://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/new-york/hilton-westchester-RYEHIHH/index.html

The hotel offers complimentary shuttle service to the surrounding area and train stations, as well as to the Westchester, NY airport.

Hilton Westchester Outdoor Space


Bar Taco Located in Port Chester-a short Uber ride from the Westchester Hilton Great food. Great service. Can be quite crowded. https://bartaco.com/location/port-chester/

View Outside Bar Taco

Rye Grill & Bar https://www.ryegrill.com/ in Rye. Complimentary shuttle from Hilton. Nice menu selections. Plenty of covered outdoor seating.

The Pub. Check out this gem in downtown Rye. Cold beverages. Fun staff. Interactive locals.

What to Do

We took the hotel shuttle into Rye and wandered the streets of this small town. There are plenty of dining and shopping choices, including a great local grocery market.

Stop in at the library https://www.ryelibrary.org/

Visit the city website https://www.townofryeny.com/ for other things to do.

Consider touring the Sculpture Garden at the PepsiCo Headquarters. https://www.pepsico.com/sculpture-gardens

Enjoy your visit to New York City and beyond.

SHARE this post with all those planning a trip or those wishing to visit NYC.

©July 2019. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Would you like Linda to visit and write a feature story on your community? Nominate it here.

All You Need to Plan a Reunion in Winterset, Iowa

The Thomason extended family decided to plan a 2019 family reunion.

As with most families with members living in multiple states, it can be somewhat difficult to gather often. Yet there is the desire to connect in person.

3 Generations of Thomason Family

Share this Post with Others Planning Reunions.

6 factors in choosing a reunion location

  • Short travel distance for matriarch, aka Granny
  • Easy travel for airline commuters
  • Comfortable, well-appointed, and affordable lodging
  • Great dining and shopping choices
  • Availability of a professional photographer for family photos
  • Entertainment & Recreation

Winterset, Iowa–Chosen Reunion Location

Winterset, Iowa was chosen as the ideal location. It is great for families of all sizes. There is plenty to see and do in Madison County and businesses and attractions are well accustomed to working with and welcoming visitors and guests from all over the world.

In addition, their Chamber and Welcome Center has a fantastic website.

More information. http://www.madisoncounty.com/

Winterset is approximately
• 37 miles from Des Moines, Iowa
• 125 miles from Omaha, Nebraska
• 180 miles from Kansas City, Kansas
• 270 miles from Sioux Falls, South Dakota


Check the Chamber’s website http://www.madisoncounty.com/ for accommodations of all types and price ranges.

Our group booked all of the rooms at Heavenly Habitat Bed & Breakfast. http://www.heavenlyhabitat.net/. It was perfect in every way. We gathered often to share meals, play board games, watch NBA finals games and enjoy one another’s company.

Steve and Nancy Fauser are exceptional inn keepers. Each breakfast was better than the next. Come with a hearty appetite. Microwaves and refrigerators are available on site.

Street View of Heavenly Habitat
Breakfast Area on Main Floor
What is a reunion without Frisbee and Corn Hole? Grassy area across from B&B.


Winterset has plenty of great dining options for all budgets and appetites. Check out the Chamber website to plan your meals and make advance reservations. http://www.madisoncounty.com/dining/.

Northside Café Salmon Dinner

Our group dined here & would gladly return to

What to Do at Your Reunion

Check the Events tab to plan reunion activities. http://www.madisoncounty.com/

50th Annual Madison County Covered Bridge Festival is October 12-13, 2019.

Bridges of Madison County

1 of 6 bridges visited. http://www.madisoncounty.com/the-covered-bridges/

Aquatic Center

Visit https://wedesignpools.com/portfolio/winterset-aquatic-center/. We did not have time to use this facility. We did drive by and families of all ages were using it.

First Friday Night Concert Series

Photography Session

Hiring a professional photographer to capture family photographs was important to this group. We hired http://teddiyaeger.com/. She was professional, prompt and experienced. She provided expert advice on location and attire and was a pure joy to work with.

Parks & Recreation

There is plenty of green space in Madison County, including in Winterset Iowa. Check out the multitude of recreational opportunities http://www.madisoncounty.com/recreation/


The historic square in downtown Winterset is known for great shopping http://www.madisoncounty.com/shopping/ and our group made an economic impact during our visit.

One of our favorite spots was Pine Creek, Ltd. https://www.facebook.com/Pine-Creek-Ltd-435798216503689/

Another favorite was http://www.1stavenuecollective.com/. It’s an artisan market in the former Madison County jail.


I posted a feature on Madison County in the Fall of 2018. Check out the attractions information on it, including mention of wineries. http://www.lindaleierthomason.com/2018/09/11/9-reasons-madison-county-iowa-is-worth-visiting/


Start planning your reunion today. SHARE this post with others attending.

This post was not sponsored.

©Copyright. June 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected. Images are available for sale.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Would you like Linda to write a feature story on your community? Nominate it here.

Don’t Miss These 5 Sites in Downtown Omaha

Downtown Omaha is an ideal location to explore on a Sunday afternoon.


  • Plentiful parking (free)
  • Great signage-attraction name and distance by # of blocks
  • Free public art, including dancing fountains
  • Low volume traffic
  • Sidewalk musicians in the Old Market
  • Excellent brunch and lunch spots

Park. Walk. Explore these 5 locations.

We did recently, in this order, stopping for a beverage in the Capitol District while watching several innings of the Big 10 College Baseball Playoff. We can testify to the delicious ice cream cones from Dolci in the Old Market.

Pioneer Courage Park

Address: 1601 Dodge Street

Pioneer Courage Park, in combination with Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness, consists of over 100 individual bronze pieces and covers six city blocks in downtown Omaha.

This Omaha attraction is the combination of two sculpture parks which have come together to form the LARGEST bronze sculpture in the world.

Pioneer Courage Park: Tribute to settlers

More Information


Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness

Address: 1400 Capitol Avenue

Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Sculpture

More Information


Capitol District

Address: 225 North 12th Street

Restaurants, Bars, Entertainment, Lodging + Living in the Capitol District

More Information

Old Market

Address: 1100 Howard Street

More Information


Fairmont Mercantile

Address: 1209 Jackson Street

Filled with nostalgic, vintage treasures, including candy, music, pinball machines and so much more.

SHARE this post with your walking partner.

Plan a trip to downtown Omaha.

©Copyright. May 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected. Images are available for sale.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

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Perseverance: Icing on Cake for Pastry Chef

Meet Bruce Dodds

Bruce early in his cake manufacturing career
Early Career

Bruce admits he was a poor student at North Dakota’s Fargo North High School. Book learning was not his thing. The social part was. Hands-on learning trumped books, always.

Yet, he found unconditional love and support from his parents who weren’t deterred by his poor attitude and poor grades.

They understood with time and finding his passion, Bruce would thrive. And, how right they were.

At age 50, Bruce retired as Vice President of Research and Development in a business he helped build. Then sold.

Here’s Bruce’s Story.

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Rich Texas Life

Bruce is completely content with his life’s path. “I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I couldn’t possibly wish for anything else.”

He and his wife of 39 years, Teresa (Wickenheiser), a registered nurse, are both retired and living in  Texas. They’re the proud parents of two adult children and five grandchildren.

Most days Bruce awakens early and takes his two Labradors out to train for field trials. “It’s stress-free fun that gives me a reason to get out of the bed in the morning.  My dogs just love it.”

Hunting in North Dakota

Afternoons are spent in his pottery studio “throwing clay on the wheel or hand building pieces.” He doesn’t sell any of his many works. “One day my kids will have to figure out how to get rid of it all.”

He does get the parallel between cake baking and clay. Cake baking and pottery design both require immense amounts of creativity. Each begins with raw ingredients eventually shaped into a finished product-a cake and a beautiful functional art piece.

When not creating, he’s planning repeat trips to remote parts of the world, like Africa, to see wildlife and scenery not found in the USA. Or, he’s hunting in his home state of North Dakota and polishing up his photography skills.

Path to Texas Via New York


Bruce’s NDSU West Dining Center boss is to thank for his career path. As a high school student, he worked there after school and during the summer. Early in his senior year, work peers asked about post-graduation plans. “I shrugged my shoulders and said I didn’t have a clue.” The thought of that question made him sick. “I knew I didn’t want to go to college.”

His boss suggested culinary school because he seemed to enjoy his job there so much.

Bruce sought direction from his high school guidance counselor who steered him to The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. https://www.ciachef.edu/

“One look at the brochure and immediately I knew I wanted to go there, without even stepping foot in the school.” He applied and was accepted.

He started in January 1978 after quitting his NDSU job and working in a restaurant for a few months (a pre-requisite for admission).

Despite feeling lost and homesick, Bruce “loved school.” He even landed on the Dean’s List-a cause for family celebration on a school break.

He graduated in August 1979 with an Associate’s Degree taking classes ranging from Beginning Bake Shop (3 weeks) to Classical Pastry and Showpieces (3 weeks) to meat cutting to table service.

Lesson #1

It doesn’t take a four-year college degree to be successful. “If one finds what they love to do and are willing to work hard, anything is possible.”

Jobs to Lay-Off to Career

Bruce held many jobs before landing a career in the food industry.

  • Baker for 4 months at a Monticello, NY hotel
  • Pastry Chef at a hotel in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands for a year
  • Pastry Chef at a country club in The Woodlands, Texas for a year
  • Pastry Chef at the University Club in Houston, Texas for six years

Like many, he contemplated a career switch, going so far as applying to become a Houston police officer. He decided to remain in the food industry after just one interview with the department.

He found himself with “walking papers” when the oil economy and real estate market tanked in Houston. “A pastry chef is a luxury for most clubs. There are outside sources for cakes and pastry without having to pay a salary.”

On his last day of work at the Club, he grabbed the classified ads on his way out and saw an ad for a pastry chef at a dessert and coffee bar.

Dessert Manufacturing

Product Line

Bruce went to work for the owners of the dessert and coffee bar and a year later owned a small percentage of the business. It had 4-hourly employees and a 600 square foot bakery.

As the business grew, the bakery moved into a 7000 square foot building and within another year it moved into a 30,000 square foot facility. One year later, they doubled their square footage to 60,000 square feet.

Eventually, they built their own 160,000 square foot place.

When the business was sold in 2006, it had 350 hourly employees.

Bruce was the Owner, Pastry Chef + Vice President of Research and Development for 21 years.

He learned large volume production on the job and initially leaned heavily on his food scientist ingredient suppliers. “It was very stressful for me as the entire business relied and counted on my being able to formulate recipes that:

  • Mixed and baked well in large volume production
  • Tasted good
  • Could be produced efficiently and cost effectively.”

250,000 Cakes

Overnight the company grew from 5-6 hourly employees to 75 employees to fulfill their first large volume club store company order: 250,000 9-inch, 3-layer black forest cakes.

“We were so naïve. We really didn’t know what we could or couldn’t do in production. We may not have had a darn clue but we needed the business and figured it out.” Most of the time, things worked out fine. “It was stressful at the time but quite humorous today.”

Lesson #2

A strong work ethic is huge in achieving success.

“Don’t be afraid to work hard. In fact, if you don’t, you likely won’t succeed.”

Lesson #3

“If you fail at something, pick yourself up, shake off the dust, learn from the mistake and keep pounding away. Sooner or later, it’ll all work out. You’ll be richer for it.”

Family Matters

The food industry is physically demanding and can be all consuming, thus taxing on the home life. “We eat and sleep the business. A supportive family sure does help.”

Teresa, his wife, “held down the fort at home” and was supportive of Bruce’s work. “She was, and is, my rock. Without her it would all have been for nothing.”

Lesson #4

Those who succeed in this industry, like most, “work hard and grind it out, daily.”

Work Life Balance

Bruce thinks a work life balance is important but easily admits “I found it to be pretty difficult.” Work consumed him both at the office and at home. Test kitchen and production deadlines were always looming and the phone rang constantly, even during the middle of the night.

“I’d say, if one is able to close the office door and go home to enjoy his or her family without thinking of the work sitting on the desk, you are better for it.”

Accolades + Awards

Bruce’s proudest achievement to date is his family.

Forced to cite professional awards, he lists being able to retire at age 50 as his greatest professional achievement. “The sale of our company was the ‘award’ my partners and I strove for and fought for all those years.”

Along the way, he

  • Survived in a household with two older academic and athletic brothers. One a dentist. The other an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor.
  • Won a Bailey’s Irish Crème food competition in Houston
  • Appeared on the cover American Airlines’ American Way magazine behind a 5-tiered wedding cake prepared for his final project at CIA.

3 Principles + Values

What always guided Bruce toward these achievements were the three principles and values learned at a young age.

Lesson #5

Timeliness is important in business and everyday life. Be on time for meetings and appointments. “Being late is rude and shows you think your time is more valuable than the people you are to meet.”

Lesson #6

Preparedness. Always show up well prepared and knowledgeable. “Nothing bothered me more than having folks show up ill prepared and clearly not ready for the meeting.” This is inconsiderate and shows laziness.

Lesson #7

Exceed Expectations. Learn all you can about your customer’s business, including their customer base. Knowing this makes it possible to meet or exceed expectations. Bruce made many trips to see grocery store bakery buyers from all over the country. “If I was asked to bring a certain product, I did. But I also brought variations of it as well.” Many times, customers don’t quite know what they want. Offering options shows you did your homework and went the extra mile. “This was always appreciated.”


“I can’t think of a thing I’d like to accomplish yet in my life. I am content and happy.”

Finding what he was meant to do and fulling that calling were hallmarks of Bruce’s success and path in life.

Not surprising, his go-to song today is Lauren Daigle’s, “You Say.”


“When we think we are worthless and don’t recognize our strengths. God sees them.”

And many thank God for helping Bruce discover + understand his greater purpose.

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©Copyright. May 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected and images are available for sale.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Contact her using the form above.

5 Movies to Watch This Year

I am not a film critic. I am one who appreciates a well-told story on film. The actors are almost always secondary to a good story for me. And, I rarely read the book before seeing the film. I don’t compare the printed word to the visual storytelling. I prefer to experience each separately.

It was a long, cold winter. We watched more movies than usual.

These five films have left the strongest impact on me, so far, in 2019.

Some were block busters. Others, not. Yet each is worth viewing.

I will not ruin it for you by revealing the plot or storyline. Instead, click on the links below for a preview of each film.

The Hate U Give

I’ve lived in Atlanta, Georgia, Washington, D.C. and Charleston, South Carolina before re-locating back to the Midwest.

The storyline, actions, and consequences here are believable and relatable to me.

Even if you’ve never lived in such a culture, the message in this movie is strong. It’s a movie I will remember. “What one puts out in the world, one gets back.”

Acronym: T.H.U.G.-The Hate U Give.

What They Had

We discovered this movie on Amazon Prime.

Anyone with aging parents will relate to the familial struggles and angst in this story. It centers on memory loss and deep love. One can get distracted by the drama in the children’s lives. Focus on the parents.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Queen was the first concert I ever attended. It was September 16, 1980 at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/queen/1980/hilton-coliseum-ames-ia-4bdc9ffe.html

I was slightly overwhelmed and equally impressed by the crowd, the music, the theatrical performances and the stage lighting that night.

Flicking of a Bic lighter to show approval was new to me.

Of course, I’d heard the music before but never seen it performed live.

Even if you’ve never had the pleasure of attending a Queen concert, this movie is worth watching.

Though you may not agree with Freddy Mercury’s lifestyle, one cannot diminish his immense talent and impact on the music industry.

The movie received the 2019 Golden Globe Best Motion Picture award.

The Wife

Women of a certain age will completely understand this movie.

I’ve been paid quite well for many years to ghost write for political and corporate leaders. I get this movie. “Keep your mouth shut while others recite your words.”

Revealing more will ruin the plot for you.

Glenn Close, the lead actress, won multiple awards for her role in the film.

Beautiful Boy

If addiction has ever been in your life or in the life of someone you love, this movie will make a lasting impression on you. It highlights repeated recovery, relapse and survival. Income and status do not shield anyone from addiction.

Steve Carell, most widely known for comedic work, does an outstanding job in this dramatic role.

One can watch this movie on Amazon Prime.

What Film’s Been Most Impactful for You?

The 1988 Comedy-Drama, “Beaches,” starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey is one I’ll always remember. Theirs was a real and loyal friendship despite class differences, betrayal and illness. It set an example for me, at an early age, on how to initiate and build life-long friendships.

We even used a featured soundtrack from this movie, “Wind Beneath My Wings” as a spotlight dance at our 1992 wedding.


List the 1 movie that’s made the biggest impact on your life.

CLOSED: One random winner will be drawn.

©Copyright. May 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected and images are available for sale.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Contact her using the form above.

Reuben Sandwiches & Art Shops in Omaha

Omaha has plenty to offer even when the weather turns foul in late April.

We trekked to the https://www.blackstonedistrict.com/ Blackstone District of Omaha to enjoy a legendary Reuben Sandwich at Crescent Moon before attending the Spring Open House at the Hot Shops Art Center.

Legend of the Reuben Sandwich

Legend has it the Reuben sandwich was created in the 1920s in Omaha, Nebraska. It was there that Bernard Schimmel ran the kitchen at the Blackstone Hotel (today known as Blackstone Center), which his father owned and where he would also enjoy a weekly poker game with friends.

As this legend goes, one of the players—local grocery store owner Reuben Kulafofsky—requested a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut. Schimmel, who was a European-trained chef, put his own spin on it by draining the sauerkraut, mixing it with Thousand Island dressing, then layering it with Swiss and homemade corned beef on dark rye bread. He then grilled it.

Crescent Moon Restaurant

3578 Farnam Street. Founded in 1996, Crescent Moon names its Reuben for the Blackstone Hotel which is just a few steps away and is credited with the creation of the Reuben sandwich. The Crescent Reuben was awarded Omaha’s Best Reuben by the Omaha World Herald-Omaha’s newspaper.

Man v. Food

On April 25, 2019 the TV show Man v Food (The Travel Channel) a reality TV series about America’s iconic dishes and food challenges filmed an episode there, featuring all items Reuben.

Staff expects the episode to air in late 2019.

Craft beers are generously featured on the menu. The restaurant also offers Sunday brunch.

Hot Shops Art Center


  • 1301 Nicholas Street (near TD Ameritrade Baseball Park)
  • Hosts Spring + Fall Open Houses for the Public.
  • See 80+ artists in 54 studio spaces.
  • www.hotshopsartcenter.com
  • Check website for demonstration schedules, artist studio locations, parking instructions, etc.
  • Shops are open at other times (9AM-6PM and 11AM-5PM) but all artists may not be in their studios.
  • Restrooms are on each floor.
  • Refreshments can be purchased during the Open House.
  • Classes are available.
  • Not necessarily kid-friendly. Lots of breakables and stairs to climb.

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©Copyright. April 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected and images are available for sale.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
She specializes in undercover studies of communities wishing to attract visitors for economic impact. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.
Want an advertorial written on your business?
Would you like to have your community promoted?

Arbor Day’s Origins in Nebraska + Ways to Celebrate

Located in Nebraska City, Nebraska

What is Arbor Day?

Arbor Day is a holiday dedicated to the planting and conservation or preservation of trees.

It is celebrated the last Friday of each April.


The first American Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10, 1872 in Nebraska City, Nebraska. On this day, over a million trees were planted in the area.

It was initiated by Secretary of Agriculture and newspaper publisher, Julius Sterling Morton.

Arbor Day became an official holiday in 1885.

Arbor Day eventually spread to all 50 states and other countries, including Australia, Brazil and Canada.

Importance of Trees

Trees are an important part of every community. They

  • Create peaceful, aesthetic environments
  • Clean our air + provide oxygen
  • Provide shade and cool our streets + cities
  • Control erosion and provide windbreaks
  • Serve as historic landmarks, especially older trees like the Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island in South Carolina www.angeloaktree.com
  • Supply wildlife habitat
  • Produce nourishment
  • Serve as building supplies

Wildlife Habitat as seen at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Charleston, SC

More Information


Log on at www.arbordayfarm.org. Plan a visit.

Ways to Celebrate Arbor Day

  • Plant a tree
  • Read books about trees
  • Attend a workshop or class on how to maintain yard trees
  • Create a neighborhood scavenger hunt to find, for instance, the tree with the largest circumference, the oldest tree, etc.
  • Learn tree species. In Omaha, one can get educated at the OPPD Arboretum at 108th and Blondo. Visit www.oppd.com website for more information
  • Clean up a park
  • Start a recycling program at work
  • Commit to using earth-friendly products
  • Learn about trees in other parts of the country or world
Palmetto Trees on the Charleston, SC Waterfront
Tree Variety at Mt. Rainier, Washington
Door County, Wisconsin

©Copyright. April 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected and images are available for sale.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.

She specializes in undercover studies of communities wishing to attract visitors for economic impact. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Want an advertorial written on your business?
Would you like to have your community promoted?

Need her to ghost write website copy, a report or speech for you?
Contact her by completing this form.