Driving Through the Heartland of America

MendotaI’m reminded of all the wagon trains that went westward through the prairie lands, which are now divided into parcels of plowed fields full of growing corn and soybean plants! I’m reminded of Laura Ingles Wilder growing up here on the plains, living in a small house with a large barn with a milk cow, some work horses, maybe some goats or pigs, as well.

How differently we live now in cities and towns with homogenized stores and restaurants and hotels. This has its perks and its detriments. You could literally pick up a family and plop them down in a new town and all their usual favorites would be there. Life isn’t disrupted in this way with the exception of friendships! The same grocery chains, the same restaurant chains, and the same mall stores, even the same outlet malls, dot the landscape from East Coast through the Heartland of America. Almost all of these places have a Home Depot or Lowe’s or both!

Okay, so there are a few exceptions. One of my favorite chain restaurants from living in the south where they seem more plentiful is Schlotzky’s Deli. Their most famed offering is a sandwich made with sourdough bread, ham and three different cheeses. “The secret is in the black olives,” one store owner told me a long time ago. “The olives are chopped and marinated in garlic.” It is served hot with tomato, lettuce, and red onion slices. If that makes your mouth water, I understand. It’s really the combination of all the ingredients that make the sandwich so yummy!

Sadly, there are none of these in New England. It was a surprise that when we landed in Maumee, Ohio (near Toledo), our hotel (also a chain) was right across the street from a Schlotzky’s Deli. A sign on our table said that they delivered and catered. I was wondering if I should put in a standing order for once or twice a month to have one of these delivered all the way back to Franklin, Massachusetts? I didn’t ask the manager, because I already knew that more than 730 miles was probably out of his delivery area! But I was tempted! Their sandwiches are that good! It had been four years since we had a Schlotzky’s sandwich! That one was in Kansas City!

There was another perk in the restaurant choices: Arby’s. We’ve yet to make it to one at mealtime, but there’s one across the street from our hotel in Coralville, Iowa, where we will stay for the next five nights. I’m sure we’ll find a time to hit that one. There are Arby’s in Massachusetts, but there are so few and most of them seem to be in malls. None of them are in Franklin, Massachusetts!

As you can probably tell, food was high on our list of exciting things to do on a drive through the Heartlands. When there are corn and soybean fields non-stop, you already have your head into food. Also, sitting or driving in a car will definitely leave your mind to roaming into food choices. Each stop along I-80 or I-90, just about every food chain in America were represented. The only one I haven’t seen is Olive Garden. Not to worry, that one is bound to show up soon!

Last night we stayed in Mendota, Illinois. It’s okay if you’ve never heard of it. Most places off I-80 through Indiana and Illinois were not much more than wide spots. We had to drive a few miles off of I-80 to find our Comfort Inn in Mendota. Across the street was a gas station with a restaurant, named Cindy’s. It was recommended by the hotel clerk. It was excellent homemade food! I also think the entire town was at the restaurant! I was surprised to see that many people. However, a Del Monte canning plant along with acres of planted farmland were no longer just dots but obviously plants we could see up close and personal. It was in Mendota, where we had a view out our second floor room of a field of soybean plants neatly growing in uniform rows. There was nothing but a farm house in the distance. Welcome to the Heartlands where growing food is the major industry and appears to be run by small farms running end to end throughout.

Now, our attention will fall to one young child not quite seven years of age. Her name is Destiny and now I transform from Connie Dunn, the author and book coach, into Grandma Honey! How precious is that? She is the reason that her two grandmas have now driven over 1200 miles through seven states!

Asparagus and Your Book

A Day at the Asparagus Festival

AspPicI cannot ever recall hearing of an Asparagus Festival! But as odd as it might sound, it was loads of fun. This took place on the Common in West Brookfield, MA, on May 21.



Joyce, Connie, and Rusty (he wasn't too keen
on the whole idea of sticking his head through
a hole!) peeking out the holes in a giant

We had a bit of trouble finding it with our GPS. It could not distinguish between Brookfield, East Brookfield, North Brookfield, and West Brookfield! We were totally lost on finding the Festival, where we were meeting a friend. It took a stop at a convenience store and asking someone to get us on the right path. So don’t rely totally on your GPS, should you decide to attend this annual event in 2017.

Asp-2While there were no carnival rides, they weren’t missed! Instead, there were 70 booths of individual craftspeople, book writers, and a variety of food venders, some of which were organizations like churches in the area and a dog shelter.


Connie and Maureen poking out of a
giant asparagus!

Yep, you could even attend an Asparagus Festival and bring home a dog! We passed on that! We already had Rusty our 5 ½-pound Chihuahua. He didn’t seem keen on the idea of even stopping to admire the puppies.

Several of the food vendors were selling asparagus, such as prosciutto wrapped asparagus, and asparagus and cheese bread. My favorite, however, was the Barbeque vendor!

I’m a Texas-born girl raised on barbeque. I have fond memories of barbeque brisket sandwiches (pulled pork is just as good!), beans, and potato salad, washed down with Coca-Cola, and a large slice of salted watermelon for desert. Unfortunately, I can no longer tolerate the watermelon or any spicy sauces. Speaking about watermelon brings up a smoker full of watermelon stories! Some are salty; some are sweet. In this blog I’m going to stick to the Asparagus Festival!

There were booths full of beautiful pottery, beautifully polished stones, and so many, many more things. I was struck by the two booths with authors selling their books! I guess I had not thought about selling books at a festival like the Asparagus Festival. My town, Franklin, MA, holds a Strawberry Festival every year. Ours is not held on the Common, but in the middle of our downtown area. There aren’t as many craft booths as we saw at the Asparagus Festival. But we also have Strawberry Shortcake!

My point is that each of our towns and cities hold a variety of different events. These are opportunities to set up shop. It’s one way to let the community know that you’re an author!

I’ll be honest. I’m not sure if the festival crowd targets my various markets for any of my more than 30 books, but it does deserve a thoughtful ponder and a couple of targeted e-mails to get more details. If you do set up shop for an event, make sure you have your sales tax certificate, and a good tent our next town event, which at the time of writing is getting nearer to July 4. Prices of booths and consideration on whether you’ll reach your target audience is definitely something you have to check out.

Farmers’ Markets are another opportunity for gaining some exposure locally.

As we head into the warm summer months, look for opportunities to get in front of your target market!