Preparing your restaurant business for the COVID-19 season.
Restaurants and tourism-based businesses around the world have been massively impacted by the spread of COVID-19. Travel restrictions and the effort to “Flatten the Curve” of the disease are crucial measures in saving lives.
In the meantime, business owners are in a place of uncertainty, and financial projections that anticipated a busy and fruitful 2020 season are now unknown.
Business owners in Maine and across the country are working quickly to mitigate the impact that the disease and the associated regulations are having on the industry. Many small businesses are seeking guidance on where to start with messaging and how to reach out to their communities.
Need a place to start? Take a look at the checklists and ideas below. They can help you get started as you make your plans.
Disclaimer: Use this information at your own risk. The below sample letter, information, and checklists are meant to provide information only to you and your team. They do not replace the advice and consultation of a legal team, nor the guidance from local state, and federal regulators. They do not guarantee accuracy or the most up-to-date information. You and your business are strongly advised to conduct your own research and consult your own legal teams for a review of any information that relates to your business, business communications, state and national protocols, your employees, and your suppliers.
Review the most current CDC, DHHS & OSHA, WHO, and FDA guidelines regarding COVID-19 in the workplace and at home. News is changing daily. Stay abreast of what is happening from a reputable source.
Reach out to your insurance provider(s) and make sure you are aware of the policy limits of your coverage. Make sure to have your policy information in place for easy access.
Reach out to your legal team and worker’s compensation agents to discuss what is required of you as an employer in protecting your team and the public.
Review food and restaurant safety and cleaning protocols at your restaurant. Discuss these with your team and document the steps you and your team take on a daily basis to keep up to code.
Develop a clear plan of action for your in-house team for emergency response. Make sure to put your health and safety guidelines in writing and review them with your team so that they are clear and actionable.
Ask employees who may feel sick to stay at home and seek medical care when indicated.
Consult with your local SCORE office for support in understanding what options may be available to you as a small business. They are at-the-ready with information from the SBA and your state regulators.
Get clear on what you can do financially in your business if you stay open, or if you decide to close. Talk to your financial team (Accountants/Financial Planners/Score Advisors) so that you have as clear-a-picture as possible of future projections. This can help you feel a measure of control and understanding – AND it can help you if you need to ask for support from your bank, SBA, or other investors.
Update your business:
Review and update your business hours on your website, Facebook, your Google-My-Business profile and any/all social media.
Post a letter to your guests regarding the measures you are taking to ensure that your business and your employees are following all local, state, and federal protocols. You should post this on your website, send it to your email list, and post it via Facebook. MAKE SURE that you have it posted on your website before you post it on social media or in an email newsletter. You will want to link back to your website URL for reference on your business updates.
Update those posts frequently.
There are many kids who will miss out on school breakfast and lunch programs, and adults who cannot afford regular groceries due to reduced working hours. Consider donating your time and leftover food or meals to your local food bank or community support center. In Maine, the team at Full Plates, Full Potential is ready and willing to help you.
Consider donating any leftover food to your employees. Many of them will need to supplement their food budget.
Create offers like “Gift Card Sales” with small discounts (e.g. “Buy $100 GC for $90”), sidewalk pick-up of take-out food, etc. Post your offers to social media with links to your website.
Make it easy for guests to adjust reservations and offer up new dates if they cancel. Collect their emails when they call or cancel. Put them in your database for future news releases and specials.
Talk to your teams often and be open in your communication.
Put all plans, policies, and communication notes in writing.
The Structure of your outreach can look like this:
Statement of Intention
What we are doing to ensure we are following state and federal protocols.
List what the customers can do to support your business
Closure and contact information
MOST IMPORTANT:Stick to the facts of what YOU and your team are doing to follow safety protocols as prescribed by state and federal regulations. Link to the CDC, FDA, DHHS, and the WHO. Do not add to this crisis by making promises or guarantees that you can’t legally/morally/ethically keep.
Your business will require its own distinct messaging based on your unique needs and guidance from your counsel and up-to-date information from your local and state representatives.
“Dear Restaurant Community, We work hard to create a welcoming environment for our guests and our team. We are closely monitoring the rapidly changing situation around COVID-19. The health and well-being of our community are paramount, and we want to share what we are doing in this time of uncertainty.
What we are doing:
Monitoring the CDC, WHO, DHHS, and FDA guidance for the most up-to-date practices
Upholding the highest standards of cleanliness and food safety in our facility and with our providers
Asking our team members to stay home when they are sick
Discouraging personal contact including shaking hands
Providing hand sanitizers and clean restroom facilities for our guests and team members
Frequent cleaning of surfaces and “high-touch” areas used by our guests and team members
What you can do:
Stay home if you are sick and follow the current state and federal guidelines around COVID-19. Call us to make a change to your reservation, as we are happy to accommodate you at a future date
Purchase a gift card for future use
Contact us for curbside take-out
The well-being of our guests, staff, and community is our top priority. We value your support of our restaurant. Please stay in touch with us via our website and on our social media for the most recent updates. And of course, if you have any questions, please reach out to us at (xxx)-xxx-xxxx or email@example.com.”
Reference and link to the CDC, OSHA & DHHS, the WHO, the FDA, and your state and regional administrations for business guidance and for up-to-date information.
Our goal is to support our community with suggestions and ideas to help “weather the storm.” Please make sure to consult your business partners and legal teams to plan for emergency communications and protocols.
Want to know how to best-integrate Influencer marketing and content creation into your business? We sit down with Amy Welch-Olson of Capshore Photography for a video interview to discuss the ins-and-outs of this massively growing field of social media marketing.
Influencer Marketing Video Interview Show Notes | An Interview with Amy Welch-Olson of Capshore Photography.
These notes were directly developed from a talk crafted by Photographer & Creator Amy Welch-Olson to the Visit Portland Community in January 2020. These points are reflected in the interview with Kristin F. Simmons.
“Hello, I’m Amy from Capshore Photography! I am excited to chat with you all today about what I have learned over the years as a content creator.
There are SO many different opinions on the topic of influencers and social media. There is still a “Wild Wild West” feeling of no set rules, so today I am going to focus on my own experiences a content creator, and try to give you some insight from the other side of the camera.
I’ve been a photographer for a long time and have been working as a content creator for several years with all sorts of different companies and brands like Visitmaine, Italiarail, and most recently VisitPortland.
I thought the best way to approach this morning would be to give you an overview of the Top Questions that have come up over the last few years in my work.
What’s the difference between a content creator and an influencer?
Content creators examples are photographers, videographers, and other professionals that create beautiful images/videos for a living.
A. They sometimes have fewer followers than influencers but you’re not booking them for their followers, you’re booking them for their expertise in creating/curating stunning content.
B. Influencers are typically micro-celebrities, vloggers, product reviewers and people who can affect and impact viewers.
They typically have a bigger following than content creators and that’s the main reason you’re hiring them – not for their incredible images (although that can also sometimes exist) but for their ability to influence others to visit/purchase/follow your brand.
People are MUCH more likely to trust someone they follow on Instagram when considering a purchase rather than a commercial/celebrity.
When you hire a content creator you could get dozens of gorgeous images that you’ll be able to use on your website or social media accounts, which typically has a slower but markedly steadier impact.
On the other hand, when you hire an influencer, you’ll have their followers paying attention to your account during the influencer’s visit. There is a faster initial impact on your social media channels, but there will be natural “drop-off” after the influencer finishes their contract work with you.
What’s the value of investing in content creation/influencers?
Potential clients and customers are significantly more influenced on social media than via traditional ads. Viewers (especially Millennials) typically plan their trips and purchases on social media.
What’s the difference between content creation and a takeover?
a. Content creation simply means copywriting, photography, and videography work that can be used by YOU, the client on your social media or websites.
b. A “takeover” is content creation that the INFLUENCER then posts on your account for you during their stay/visit/tour etc. It gives viewers a more intimate experience of seeing what a weekend/trip might be like as it’s happening from the perspective of a 3rd party. This can be accomplished through stories, videos, writing, social posts, or a combination of all four!
c. Influencers can also post on their own accounts and direct their followers to look at your brand via tags and links to your account.
How do you find a great content creator/influencer?
A. Ask around! If you’re a member of your local Chamber of Commerce, Visitor’s Bureau, or a State-Level Organization, ask who they have used for coverage. We highly encourage businesses to maximize their membership dues by working with their local and regional business organizations.
B. You can also follow local accounts with beautiful imagery and reach out to the influencers directly. You can also ask if the influencer can recommend someone who they have worked with, or if they could recommend someone to work with you. REMEMBER – work with influencers who match the demographic you are trying to attract. Ask to see their stats and where their posts are being seen.
C. You do NOT need to work with someone with thousands of followers. In fact, micro-influencers (10,000 followers or less) can have HUGE engagement and can help make a big impact with your local company. You want to make sure that their posts are being liked by people in your target market and feel free to ask for screenshots of their account analytics to verify that you are a match.
D. Who do you follow that you love or that are relevant to your business? Reach out to these influencers and see if they could help you.
How do you “pay for” content creators/influencers?
A. It depends. Sometimes influencers and content creators will “trade” services for a press trip/weekend, or a free meal. Sometimes they will charge an hourly rate or a multi-day rate, and may also ask for accommodations/meals, etc. to be included. At a minimum, if you are making a trade, expect to comp everything. You may choose to ask the influencer to pay for any alcoholic beverages, but otherwise, cover food expenses.
B. It’s important to be clear about what you are willing to offer/pay and what you will receive in return (deliverables). SPELL IT OUT in a contract and make sure you have a clear discussion with your collaborators before they begin work.
C. Honor the creative process. It takes time to develop stories and to edit photos and videos. THIS IS A PARTNERSHIP, so let the creative developer do what they do best, and rest easy knowing that you have spelled out your needs and goals in a clearly defined contract.
What should you be thinking about in preparing for a content creator or influencer’s visit?
A. You should generate ideas/opportunities/local tips for experiences to document. This can help give the influencer a good place to start.
B. Review what’s missing from your content/marketing materials and ask them to help fill in the holes.
C. What are you hoping to highlight about your business? Get their creative input.
D. Build-in downtime in their schedule so they have time to catch their breath and to accommodate for creative opportunities that may arise.
E. Make introductions to a point person in your business or community so everyone knows what’s going on.
F. Deliverables/contracts – make sure you have this discussion beforehand about what you will give and get. Put it in writing. Be clear about what both agree upon as far as deliverables/returnables. This should include when will they arrive/leave? What is the trade/payment? What kind of access do you have to the images (exclusive rights)? When should you expect to get the images back?
Have you worked with an influencer or content creator? We would love to hear from you. Tell us your tips or tricks and leave your questions below.
Reach out to Amy Welch-Olson at capshorephotography.com or on Instagram. She can consult with you about working directly as an Influencer and content creator, or she can provide custom development sessions with you so that you can build a strategy and dive into influencer marketing armed with all the information you need to make it a massive success.
Maine’s 200th Birthday is well underway and businesses all across the great Pine Tree State are looking for ways to tap into the celebration as a marketing tool.
Here are 2 trends that can help you TODAY in making the most of this special event in your social media marketing.
Trend 1: Share UGC -User Generated Content & 3rd Party Links
What is UGC you may ask?
“User-generated content (UGC) is any content—text, videos, images, reviews, etc.—created by people, rather than brands. And brands will often share UGC on their own social media accounts, website, and other marketing channels.” Hootsuite
A good rule of thumb is to follow the 80/20 rule when using UGC and 3rd Party links for your content calendar.
It goes a little like this:
80% of the content you share on your social media sites should come from other resources.
20% of the content you share should be your original stories, photos, and videos.
Why you may ask? Well, it’s as easy as this: NO ONE likes to hear someone talk about themselves all-the-time.
There is also evidence to back this up. Sharing content from 3rd party sources and UGC:
Builds trust and authority. Social Algorithms love when you are relevant, post current events, and are “shareable.”
It serves your community with relevant and useful information.
Clients LOVE LOVE LOVE to share their feelings and opinions.
So, now that you know about UGC & 3rd Party Links, where can you find things to share?
First, do an inventory of your social media feed and email inbox, and look for the following: client posts, comments, tagged photos, testimonials, emails, hand-written notes, etc. This is GOLD and you can share this in your feed WHEN you ask for permission from your clients.
Follow this rule: Make sure to give credit and celebrate the fact that your customers are acting as ambassadors.
It’s easy and here’s a sample:
“We loved what you posted on Instagram. We would like to share it with our users and give credit to you. Would you be comfortable if we shared it on our Facebook page? Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org” and then post away dear friends!
You can also share content from reliable 3rd party resources. These will help you to look like you are in-the-know (which you are dahling!) and will serve as resources to your clients and customers.
You can position yourself as the business who cares about sharing the best with their clients. And all you have to do is copy a URL link, add a note, and ask for comments…and then voilà! Your audience engagement increases.
Great places to find content to share about Maine’s Bicentennial 2020:
Maine Public has a HOST of resources including its daily series called, “On this day in Maine,” as well as radio shows, interviews, stories, and links to the Maine Archives. Find out more here.
The Maine Office of Tourism has an MOT Partners Website with a WEALTH of information on upcoming events, as well as resources like photo downloads, links to regional websites, a community calendar and more. Find out more here.
Maine200.org is the HUB of all Maine events related to the Bicentennial. Here you will find out how to submit our own event, links to Bicentennial products for sale, and a bounty of Maine Stories. Find out more here.
Trend 2: LIVE Video
You have heard it over and over again: LIVE video is taking over the internet. It is estimated that by 2022, 85% of all content on social media will be video content.
Video content is KING on the internet. Why should you use it?
Our clients LOVE video when our content is of service to THEM and when it helps to extend the customer experience.
Video boosts your ability to be seen in social feeds by both your current audience and potential customers.
All you need is your iPhone & a tripod. (Trust me, your hands are NOT that steady.)
Easy ideas to share on video for Maine’s Bicentennial 2020:
Why do you love living and working in Maine?
Fun Facts about Maine’s History.
Short tours of the services you provide.
Step 1 –Take a class. (Yes, I teach this class – and I think its really valuable.) I am also a die-hard believer in hands-on practice and a supportive community when it comes to practicing and mastering Live videos.
Step 2 – Watch other people’s live videos and learn what you like (and what you don’t). I watched hundreds of videos and I realized that I like short-and-sweet tours and heartfelt testimonials. I also took a media training course and IT CHANGED MY LIFE.
Here’s a quick video I did about the Rockland Breakwater in Rockland, Maine. You will see that it is HOMEMADE and all it took was my iPhone and my courage to get out there and do it.
When you are ready to take your video marketing to the next level, (think news-worthy segments and beautifully shot and edited spots) it is worth your time and energy to work with a film and video production professional who can help you put your best foot forward.
I love the Tips & Tricks from the Burdo Media Group. Find out more about her here and sign up for her Newsletters. Her actionable tips are great for everyday use AND in planning out more formal, high-level videos.
Let us know how you are marketing for Maine’s Bicentennial 2020. We would love to hear your ideas!
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I laid my head down and I tried to get to sleep. I was both restless and exhausted.
I kept thinking of Ben Solo and Rey, sitting face-to-face in their final scene together inStar Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. An epic battle of light-and-dark ensued, where the pair fought the evil Sith Lord, Emperor Palpatine.
After much fighting, Ben was cast down to the bottom of one of Star Wars’ well-known “now-you-are-surely-dead-but-you-may-come-back-to-life” crevasses, leaving Rey to invoke the spirit of all the Jedi-past to empower her to defeat the darkness.
She did so, in one of the most teeth-clenching, breath-stopping moments of the series, countering the evil emperor’s statement, “I am all the Sith!” with an ultra-empowering, “AND I AM ALL THE JEDI!” Light passed through her and the Emperor, his minions, and his temple were destroyed.
It is a fully satisfying scene that replayed over and over in my mind.
In that moment of the movie, we did not yet know if Rey would survive as a conduit for that much force power.
We watched and waited as Ben Solo climbed from the crevasse (not dead) to see Rey lying before the now-destroyed Sith throne. He limped and stumbled toward her (a truly embodied piece of physical acting by the incredible Adam Driver) convincing us both his physical and emotional pain.
It was heart-wrenching to watch.
Ben Solo turned Rey’s lifeless body and took her up in his arms. We could see in his tender embrace what had been hinted and suggested at (and wished for my thousands of Force-Fans online) throughout episodes 7, 8, and 9: Ben Solo loved Rey deeply.
There was NOW no mistaking it.
He cradled her body close to his, laying his hand gently on her torso to transfer his life force into her. He closed his eyes and the movie’s music crescendoed. I could almost feel him breathing life into her, as I held my own chest in anticipation.
I replayed this moment over and over in my mind, and I was completely absorbed in it.
It is these kinds of chest grabbing, tear-jerking, kick-ass, joy-filled moments that make up the body and soul of the Star Wars saga. I felt the same when I saw the Rebel fighters take down the AT-ATs on Hoth; when I saw Yoda reveal his face to Luke on Dagobah and help him complete his training; when the disguised Bounty Hunter, aka Leia unfreezes her beloved Han Solo; when the Rancor (the most misunderstood and hungry guy on Tatooine) tries to eat Luke at Jabba’s Palace; when Leia and Luke sped through the forest of Endor on the speeders…and on and on.
Star Wars is made up if these miracle story moments – the ones that as a child, were the springboard for my playtime; as an adult, a conduit for connection with fellow fans and the magic of imagination within. It laughed, I cried, and I learned how to catch my breath, fully absorbed in the characters and their stories.
I reached out to my friends as we celebrated the launch of the Final Chapter of the Skywalker Saga and asked them: “Why does Star Wars matter to you? What is it about the story that means something to you? What are your best Star Wars memories?”
Their responses were heartening and beautiful.
Chuck McLean: Ever Since I was a little child I loved the aesthetic of the Star Wars Universe. It was a real place to me. Star Wars sparked my creativity at a young age with playtime -a stick could be a lightsaber or blaster playing outside with my friends, or making silly movies with my family. Drawing pictures or building with legos always had some essence of Star Wars injected into it. Still to this day that has been a part of my creative energy. As I get older, I often think of how the lore of Star Wars starts to make more sense when I try to understand the world around me. While the top physicists in the world try to understand what “Dark Matter” is, or why there is gravitational attraction, I just rely on the words of Obi-Wan when he explained the Force to young Luke. “…an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together,” or any of the wise quotes from Yoda, the Jedi Master. “Do or do not. There is no try.” “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Or “Pass on what you have learned.” That is enough for me.
Bryce Hach: I was born in 1974 and Star Wars came out when I was not quite three years old. I saw it in back-to-back showings in the Ames, Iowa shopping mall theater the first time I saw it and it is my very first memory. I feel that my life and Star Wars kind of had a similar birth in that regard. When I was in kindergarten, a beloved teenage friend, Jim, from across the street, spent who-knows-how-many-hours to hand-make me a life-size X-Wing Fighter in my basement. That friend was in a terrible bicycle accident that left him forever mentally paralyzed not long after that. It was the best present I had ever received. When I was seven, I remember my dad putting the whole neighborhood of kids into the station wagon to see the original Star Wars when it was re-released in a local theater. When one of the kids started talking during the film, I stood up and said, “This is Star Wars and that that behavior was entirely unacceptable!” I wear the same 1977 iron-on “May the Force Be With You” t-shirt for the first showing of each new Star Wars movie in the theater since my early childhood. The shirt is a youth size and stretched to hell but it will be worn again come December 19th. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away is synonymous with a more innocent time in my youth that holds true no matter what stresses, responsibilities or challenges adulthood throws at me. As I have gotten older, there is something strangely reassuring to see that the characters of Star Wars have gotten older too. Mark Hamill was a teenage Luke Skywalker for so many imagination adventures in my childhood home, either in dress-up or with action figures, and now we all look a little worn for wear. Beyond the memories, I love the mythic good vs. evil (light and dark sides of the force) the film embodies but also how the films show so many tributary storylines of scoundrels, bounty hunters, warlords, rogues and the like, who operate on the fringes, opportunistically carving out niches throughout the film’s many narratives. I love the characters in all their many forms, languages, fictional cultures and nuances. I love the soundtracks with all the original music from John Williams. I love the many notable quotes from the film that are forever etched into my daily lexicon. And finally, I find the Star Wars films visually awe-inspiring. It is vast and panoramic and yet still intimate and approachable
Ann Casey: Star Wars matters to me simply because it brings my family together. While I think the story is awesome, I think it is even more impressive to do what is done in episodes 4-6, then I do in the prequels, then sequels, not to mention all the shoot-offs. It spans generations and is something my entire family can enjoy.
Patty Holliday: My parents didn’t have a sitter, so they loaded up 3 little girls and took us to the movies to see Empire Strikes Back. It’s one of my earliest full family memories. And that moment where Darth is revealed as Luke’s father? ZOMG 6-year-old me was shook! It’s the first fandom I ever had and the one I was most eager to pass on to my own children. And yes, my son’s name is Luke in part so I could say, “LUKE- I AM YOUR MOTHER” at embarrassing moments in his life. 😉 This ending? This ending is probably going to take me back to that 6-year-old moment because the ending of Star Wars is most certainly going to rock our worlds.
Miles Hanson: To me, Star Wars represented a world filled with potential where you could be whatever you wanted to be. That a kid on a dusty planet, drinking blue milk could lead a rebellion. Or someone rough around the edges with questionable morals could still come through as the good guy.. or just because you came from high society, doesn’t mean you can’t play in the dirt. Their Universe is vast and lived in with rich history and mysticism, its easy to fall in love with.
Scott Luers: What an amazing piece of the hero narrative that hits us all to the core- good vs evil, with cool things like lasers (even without sharks!) and lightsabers. But in the end I think we all just love to see good triumph over evil even when the chips are down (and aren’t they always?). I think it parallels a lot of the struggle of our lives, as well as what we hope for in our country.
Let us know why Star Wars matters to you? We would love to hear it. Share it in the comments below or on our social media pages.
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gratitude is magical™ | calling cards to share your thanks
We believe that what you put into the world, you get back. When you show your thanks, you give not only your gratitude, but also your appreciation, kindness, and thoughtfulness.
These actions have power. These gestures create change.
On a recent trip to a Destination Theme Park, I watched as a young guest walked up to one of the costumed staff and handed her a homemade gift card.
It was a sweet gesture, and the staff member bent down to greet the young boy to respond to his act of kindness.
In this beautiful moment, and I walked over to her, as I was touched by what I had just witnessed.
I said to her: “Do you mind showing me the card he gave you?”
She said, “Of course!” while wiping away a small tear of sweet emotion. She handed me the piece of paper. On it was a drawing of a robot and the words, “Thanks for working so hard!”
The staff member said to me: “This happens sometimes, and it means so much to me. We have SO many more times when guests are complaining or they are mad and it can be a challenge. It is SO nice when we get things like this. It really makes my day.”
I could see that she meant it and how much it refueled her.
I have always been a big fan of hand-written cards and small acts of kindness. After I returned home from the theme park, I asked one of my daughters to design a card that we could easily put in our day packs so that we could have quick access to mini “Thank You” notes.
I wanted to be able to quickly share a “Thanks for a great meal” in a restaurant check, or “We appreciated the room upgrade” & “You were so patient with us and all of our questions.”
She came up with the 1st Design: “A Galaxy of Gratitude™” with more to new cards to come.
We hope you will enjoy these cards and that they will inspire you to share your thanks with the people around you; at work, in the theme parks, in your neighborhood, or out on the town.
This artwork is original and the gratitude is magical™ is the trademarked property of Kristin F. Simmons Digital Media. This creative material is not affiliated with any other third party entities or businesses. Any questions can be directed to email@example.com
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge: The Lifesized Playset You Have Been Looking For.
It was 1982 and I was standing alone in the front aisle of our local BEST department store. The sun shone brightly through the windows and the dust motes lazily floated to the floor through the rays of light. I turned around to look at the shelves, sparsely filled with toys, yellowed books, and bric-a-brac. It was there I saw the playset that I had been dreaming about: the complete Kenner Dagobah System from Star Wars Episode 5 – The Empire Strikes Back.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The price tag read, “$3.99.”
“It MUST be wrong,” I thought. I had a crumpled five-dollar bill in my granny-style, pinchable plastic change purse, and my heart skipped a beat. This was the size of playset usually reserved for birthday or holiday gifts – NOT something that the average 8-year-old could afford on their own.
I started to have fully self-possessed AND out-of-body experience- a sensation that I would later come to know as being in the “zone.” I removed the box from the shelf and took it over to my mother who, at first glance, reacted immediately and said, “I’m not buying that for you!”
“But it’s only $3.99,” I said with excitement.
“No it isn’t,” my mother replied tersely.
Then I showed her the tag and said with a firm mix of pride and tremulous fear, “I can buy it by myself!”
She looked at me with a mixture of emotions. I could see that she was prepared to either acquiesce or overrule me – both outcomes weighing in with a 50/50 chance. To my luck, she chose the former, and I placed the box on the counter and got out my crumpled bill to pay the cashier.
I played with that set for what seemed like forever and kept the original box until it fell apart in my late 30s. The foam that acted as the “swamp” became a sticky, disintegrating mush, and I lost the levitating boxes one by one. I still have Yoda, his snake, and the training backpack, along with Luke, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan, complete with retractable lightsabers. After decades of house and apartment moves, countless cats, dogs, and two children of my own, the Dagobah System playset stands as a reminder of my enduring love for Star Wars and what the stories mean to me.
I recently visited Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios the Walt Disney World Resort. The Star Wars-theme land is deeply immersive and is meant to act as a LIFE-SIZE play and improv space.
Everywhere you turn, images from the films and shows are made manifest – the centerpiece of which is a fantastic life-size Millennium Falcon. At first pass (and even second or third), guests need to take time to absorb all the details. It is a full sensory experience; every sight, sound, and every smell curated to match the setting.
It is a land that demands interaction – much the same way that my Dagobah playset required that I get down on the floor and use my hands and my imagination to make the scene come to life. Galaxy’s Edge is NOT a passive attraction experience. There are no character meet-and-greets; nor EXACT replicas of scenes from the movies. Instead, the land is full of creative and immersive suggestions.
There is an inherent tension that exists in that – one that asks us to PLAY by revealing the cards that we as fans have held so tightly to our chests. Star Wars is OURS and we have had YEARS since 1977 to build up our deeply personal fantasies and our attachments.
As exciting and amazing as Galaxy’s Edge IS, I found myself wanting more… not from the land, nor the attractions or the cast members, but from MYSELF.
I wanted to be able to fully let go and I wondered what it would be like to play in Galaxy’s Edge, much the same way that I played with my toy sets, or out in my yard, with a stick acting as my lightsaber.
I stood in the Batuu Marketplace and I wished that I could be there with my family and a director, costumer, and extended team of like-minded fans who were willing to go full-on-geek with us. I wanted to be able to let myself play; to be fighting for the rebellion, drinking at the Cantina, and helping Chewbacca repair the Falcon.
I LOVE what Disney has created with Galaxy’s Edge and the challenge it presents to me. I sipped several drinks at the Cantina and sang the chants along with the cast members. I rode the attractions and marveled at the jaw-dropping detail and the role-play of the Imperial Officers and Storm Troopers. I squealed with delight as we punched it to lightspeed in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.
It was all quite wonderful and perfect. I remembered and FELT that blissful state of childhood imagining.
Have you been to Galaxy’s Edge? Let me know your experiences in the comments below.
Do you want to know why you should visit Québec City?
Bear with me here, as it may take a moment for me to answer.
I just THINK the word, “Québec” and I am immediately flooded with happy feelings.
I may sigh a little and wish that I could hold your hand tightly, hoping that through the force of squeezing your fingers, you would begin to FEEL just how much I love this region in Canada.
Québec City IS MAGICAL!
I can list countless places to see that will take your breath away; hundreds of things to do that will spark your imagination and make you believe in the goodness of people; millions of foods to eat that will make you want to cry because your everyday diet will pale in desperate comparison.
But Québec City is much more than all of that…
Everyone talks about how the region feels European, as if that alone is reason enough for its allure. Visitors say that going to Québec is “like going to Europe without having to fly to get there!”
While true, these kinds of statements don’t do its magnetism or individuality justice.
Yes, there IS an old-world feeling to Québec City and its environs. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich in an intangible cultural legacy.
The surrounding landscapes are marked with wild beauty and rolling, abundant farms. The Québec province is known for its diverse and exceptional agricultural products. You will be tempted to stock up on its cheeses, wines, breads, and maple syrup.
Colonial French stone architecture and colorful Mansard roofed-homes sit side-by-side with beautifully engineered modern wood, glass, and steel structures. You can see the centuries pass as you walk down any street or visit any farm.
Listen and you will hear a distinct style of French being spoken. Around 50% of Québec’s residents are also bilingual (Frommers, 2018), making it an easy place for visitors from English-speaking countries to navigate.
And with all of that, Québec City is wholly its own; an amalgam of rich First Nation, French, British, & modern influences.
It’s uniqueness has a quality that will affect you entirely; you will feel as if you have come alive again.
Why do we go to Québec City year after year?
The Safety & Comfort
Politeness rules the day in Québec City and across Canada. Canadians are known for their courteousness and congeniality. (There is a legitimate truth behind that oft-characterization.)
The Province of Quebec has the lowest crime rate in all of North America, and is home to one of the safest metropolitan regions in Canada. As family travellers, we feel at ease in the city and in the surrounding countryside. Locals always say, “Bonjour!” and make eye contact in a non-threatening way. It is customary to greet friends with a double air-kiss to the cheeks.
Of course, common sense around safety is always in order. We navigate the region with our cell phones and mobile-based apps. Many US-based unlimited cell phone plans extend into Québec without roaming fees. We have let our teens navigate Québec’s Old City (Vieux Québec) on their own and we stay in touch via IM. Open WiFi networks are everywhere and are the best way to stay connected with your friends and family.
We appreciate the hospitality that extends beyond the hotels and restaurants. We have made friends in the region, as we travel there at least two times per year. The city is easy to navigate by foot, by car, rideshare, or by public transport.
At any time of the year, Québec is host to countless music, art, and food festivals. The city is filled with museums, restaurants, and galleries that beckon locals and visitors alike.
Over ONE weekend this past summer, we visited three major events in the city: the KWEI Festival celebrating aboriginal and indigenous people of Canada, the Flip Fabrique Circus just outside of the newly opened Grand Marché, and the Musée des Beaux Arts. The Musée played host to one of the world’s largest shows about Spanish Artist Joan Miró and was not to be missed. Its sister museum, the Musée de la Civilisation featured a spectacular exhibition of previously undiscovered colonial artifacts alongside its permanent collection. We adore the Aquarium du Québec – home to indigenous animals from land and sea, including a very large, whistling Walrus (“le morse” in French) named Boris, and a highly interactive display of sea rays.
Québec’s Carnaval is the highlight of the winter season. The city comes alive with hundreds of snow-centered activities, from axe throwing and log rolling, to maple sugar-on-snow and enormous ice castles. Carnaval is the largest winter festival in the world. The Night Parades alone are worth the trip, and feature the avuncular Bonhomme De Neige snowman, and the circus and acrobatic stylings that Québec province is famous for.
The food of Québec is an attraction in itself. Just 10 minutes from downtown Québec sits the Île d’Orléans, home to some of the region’s best produce, wine, bread, cheese, and maple syrup. Take a drive around the island and stop in for free tastings and tours with the producers.
Learn everything you need to know about where to eat in Québec City, and the stories of the local farmers and chefs on Youtube at Foodie Quebec. Watch as local broadcaster and writer Allison Van Rassel shares her tips about the cuisine of Québec. Her warm manner and journalistic style help showcase the best food stories of the region. Read her weekly roundups at her Foodie Quebec website.
Québec hosts a wide range of accommodations – from small boutique hotels and B&Bs, to AirBnBs apartment rentals, and the world-famous luxury hotel, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
As Québec is an immensely walkable city, and small bakeries, cafés, and grocery stores are around every corner, (even in the Old City), we highly recommend apartment rentals for those travelling with large parties. If you are in the Old City, there is plenty of inexpensive overnight parking, as most AirBnBs do not have parking as part of their fee. Find out more about where you can park here.
AirBnB has a large variety of rentals to choose from at every budget. You can see the listings right on their website. The pricing allows large groups to travel and stay together on a budget, and for you to try your hand at cooking up some of the regional specialties.
For mid-priced hotels, we love the Le Hotel Vieux-Québec (HVQ). Its rooftop gardens and beehives are lovely to see in the summer, and its own produce is used at the in-house restaurant, Bistro Tournebroche. The hotel stay includes a hearty breakfast that comes in a basket delivered to your door. HVQ is centrally located in the Old City and the street outside perfect for people-watching year-round.
We enjoyed Hotel Chateau Laurier, just outside of the walls to the Old City. Walk out of the back doors onto the Plains of Abraham to take in some fresh air, incredible views, and a bit of local history, or make your way into the adjacent tony neighborhood of Montcalm. There you will find museums, local bistros and wine shops that will welcome you like a local.
If you want to splurge, Le Chateau Frontenac is singular and boasts the best view of the Saint Lawrence River AND some of the finest restaurants in the Old City. The rooms are beautifully appointed and the beds are heavenly. Its room service menu is hands-down our family favorite. We still talk about the pasta with cream and local cured ham, and the pizza made from brioche dough and Charlevoix cheeses.
For more information about all-things-Québec, go to the Québec City Website. Not only is it a WEALTH of information, but also serves as a portal to start a live chat with someone who can help you with any questions you may have.
We would love to hear your tips about visiting Québec City and what you have enjoyed in your travels! Bon Vacances!
-Kristin et Famille
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It is a part of the world that has inspired and motivated artists for centuries.
Visit just once, and you will immediately know why it serves as both muse and escape; as refuge and lover. You can see it in the landscape and taste it in the air. The rolling mountains wind down to the shoreline; the craggy rocks and islands are marked with tall evergreens that stand sentinel over its harbors.
The village of Rockland in Midcoast Maine cherishes its reputation as a mecca for artists. It celebrates and supports classic and contemporary work – showcasing both in local museums, galleries, and shops.
Rockland is a short drive from Portland, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. There is so much to do that you can plan a full, active weekend, or a leisurely vacation.
Its mission states that it celebrate’s “Maine’s role in American Art” and that charge is on full display in each of the Farnsworth’s beautifully appointed galleries. A signature institution in Maine and across the United States, the Farnsworth’s collection features works from American masters including The Wyeth Family, Louise Nevelson, Alex Katz, and Robert Indiana. Rotating exhibitions like “Slab City” and its progressive children’s school programs, bring the legacy of Maine’s impact in the art world to life. The museum is a must-see while in town.
Exit the Farnsworth and you will find yourself face-to-face with the charming Caldbeck Gallery. Artists like Katherine Bradford and Sam Cady have their work on display in rotating exhibitions. The charm of the gallery comes not only from the art, but the connection and accessibility to the proprietors Cynthea Hyde and James Kinnealey. You can easily end up in a wonderful conversation about color and light, or the playful use of brushstrokes.
The Center for Maine Contemporary Art moved from neighboring Rockport in 2016 to a refurbished section of the Rockland working waterfront. Architect Toshiko Mori designed the space to seamlessly fit into the downtown lot, successfully capturing the feeling that the CMCA has “been there forever” and is also new, breathtaking, and deeply original.
Exhibitions at the CMCA are outstanding, the likes of which locals and visitors are known to exclaim: “THIS is in Maine?!” The CMCA answers with an astounding, “Yes!” Chief Curator and Executive Director Suzette McAvoy and her team work to support contemporary artists and local school programs with their open house classes and rotating exhibits. You will know what “Wow!” really means when you visit the CMCA.
Find yourself in an engaging visitor’s center that successfully combines education, engagement, and the arts – all of which support programs to renew and protect Maine’s precious shore wildlife and habitats. Situated just off of Rockland’s Main Street, the center features a life-sized coastal habitat that brings a shore bird sanctuary to life. Children and adults alike can play in dories and on the rock ledge, placing eggs and models of birds in stone nests.
The main building is home to an education center and gallery, filled with work by professional artists and local children. Educational programs run year-round and guests can learn how to visit the coastal bird sanctuaries.
This historic Ice-House-turned-Chocolaterie is the home of Bixby Chocolate. Owner Kate McAleer is an outstanding confectioner, and the fruit of her labor can be seen in the tasting room and on the shelves of the Chocolate Store.
The outfit grinds and conches its own chocolate, creating a signature coverture that is unique to Rockland, Maine. Kate and her father Gordon McAleer purchase cacao beans from Fair-Trade purveyors around Central and South America. Take a tour and learn how the Bixby team makes their signature sweets from bean-to-bar.
This sweet Main Street Café serves up fresh sandwiches and signature salads in sizable portions. Proprietors Jackie and Glenn Lawrence combine their love for their family’s Scottish History and cuisine at the café. The menu is themed around the names of their family members. Salads like the “Lorelei” made with chicken, apple, grapes, feta, walnuts, red onions, and spring greens are sensational; the “Breton MacLaren” is piled high with turkey, provolone, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and olives, is deeply satisfying.
Get your lunches packed to-go and take it out to the Breakwater to enjoy views of the harbor.
Chef Lynn Archer opened this signature Maine Coast restaurant in a former corporate boathouse. The menu is comprised of hearty New England classics, made from scratch daily. Archer’s food is gorgeously executed – the crab rolls are packed with fresh meat and are served up with hand-cut french fries. The chowder is creamy and light, full of littleneck clams, herbs, and diced potatoes. Take a stroll to Archer’s from downtown along the Rockland Harbor Walking Trail.Ask for a table on the deck and enjoy views of the Breakwater and working waterfront.
Get your “Flamingo On” at this staple of the Maine Midcoast. Beloved Chef and AuthorKerry Altierois a fixture on the seacoast for good reason: His food and hospitality have been pleasing guests for over 25 years. Café Miranda was at the helm of the region’s food renaissance. The portions are markedly generous and the menu is beyond extensive. There is something for everyone.
Try the “LET’S GET DANGEROUS” -fire roasted house cured tamarind glazed leg of duck spiced with Szechuan peppercorn & clove, served with Asian egg noodles, garlic, ginger, basil & spinach in a coconut curry peanut sauce. Share a signature pizza like the “SLEEPER” – topped with cured smoked beef, artichokes, red onions, parsley, mozzarella & romano cheese.
The side porch is great for pre-dinner drinks and taking in the signature flamingoes that are part of the café’s decor.
This newly rebuilt, refurbished, and reconstructed hotel has been a mainstay for ferry-goers and day-trippers to Maine’s Islands. Now, after its total refresh, it is the perfect weekend home for visitors to Maine’s Art Capital. Every room overlooks the harbor and the sunrise is spectacular. The beds are heavenly, as are the linens and pillows – you won’t want to get up even though the sunrise and fresh coffee are calling. Enjoy in-room coffee from your deck, and fill up on a full, hot complimentary breakfast in the lobby that includes, waffles, fruit, cereal, eggs, muffins, bacon and eggs, juice and of course, more coffee.
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Study Abroad – A Parent’s Perspective on travel & letting go
My oldest daughter just landed in Shanghai for her first Study Abroad program.
I am happy she is in China safely. I have been watching the clock and calculating the 12 hours ahead, following happily along with her initial itinerary. I imagine she is full of excitement and exhaustion from the long flight.
I have to admit: Sending her off for her study abroad was somewhat of a relief. The days and weeks of planning amidst all of our other life events made for a wee bit of stress.
Well, maybe MORE than a wee bit of stress…
It was at times fun to plan, pack, and fantasize about the sights and food in China. It was also fertile ground for power struggles, family sit-down chats, and self-check-ins about my OWN energy that was clouding the planning process.
I am feeling all-the-feels, as it is de-rigueur to say. I am happy. I am a wreck. I am filled with excitement, and riddled with anxiety-based-what-if travel scenarios.
This is not the first time that we have been apart for long periods of time. Both of our girls have gone away to camp for several weeks each summer. I loved the time to myself to breathe and rest, as much as I appreciated all the new and fun experiences that they were having.
Right now, summer camp feels like child’s play compared to the preparation and planning for a study abroad in a majorly far away country.
To backtrack for a moment…
Both of my children study Mandarin Chinese. I KNEW that when they picked this course of study (and yes, it was a decision that the girls discussed and debated with us at-length before making their choices), that a study abroad program in China would be in their future. I, myself have studied several Romance languages and I lived in both Mexico and Italy for long periods of time and LOVED it.
Immersion was THE THING that took my language skills from perfunctory classroom recitation to fluency. I was confident that my girls would undertake the same kind of program in their own lives.
The China trip was announced over two years ago, as her teacher and school knew that we needed time to plan, to fundraise (travel ain’t cheap!), and to get everything we needed together. My daughter began a plan to babysit several days a week during the summer, and socked money away week-after-week. She launched her own “Go Fund Me” campaign (with a little parental help) and asked for donations.
She raised the required $4,500 for her trip. We felt so proud of her efforts and the seed that was planted began to grow into full-blown excitement.
For ME, stress began to mount over what felt like a huge burden of “What-Ifs.”
It went a little something like this:
We live rurally. Will my daughter know how to get on and off a city bus? Will she know how to handle her money? Will she look both ways before crossing the street? Does she know how to carry her bag across her shoulder to keep it snug and safe from pickpockets? How will she cope with the huge crowds? Will she need to use her kickboxing skills in real-time? Will she put on enough sunscreen? We she dress modestly? Will she stay hydrated? Does she know how to treat herself if she gets diarrhea/nausea etc? And on, and on, and on….
Any scenario, I have imagined it.
I found myself getting mired in a feeling of inadequacy that I had not better prepared her for EVERY LIFE SCENARIO that could possibly come her way. (Yes, I know how insane this sounds! Hooray for Mom Guilt!) ……Like there was some kind of international boot camp I should have put her through in order to be properly prepared for study abroad and also wilderness and city survival.
I was gently and lovingly reminded by my patient-as-a-saint-husband, that our lives together have been the training she needs. We have travelled A LOT with our children and they have paid attention. We have included them in the preparations. We talk to our kids about safety. We model and LIVE the kinds of relationships we want them to have.
My daughter is smart-as-a-whip, compassionate, and highly organized.
I needed to SEE and ACKNOWLEDGE that about her.
My husband also reminded me that travel IS also the bootcamp. That these experiences are how she will learn to trust herself.
He also reminded me that the gift of OUR TRUST would help set her on that path of self-awareness and connectedness that comes from travel.
Ahhhh………That was it: TRUST.
I found myself reaching out to friends who have studied abroad, and who have experienced similar emotions with their own families.
My friend Marina shared with me: “I always felt that they [my parents] had the trust in my abilities to figure it [Travel Abroad] out, they are very proud and supportive of me and honestly, it made our relationship so strong and special. I absolutely love my parents. Now, as a mom myself I understand how hard it must’ve been for them to let me fly into the unknown and let go of control. It is the ultimate parental sacrifice to let go of your child.”
She articulated about TRUST so well.
My friend Jude stated in regards to her son’s travel abroad: “I love watching it. It is filled with the beauty of being young so far away from what you know, and the joy of being together in the experience of what you don’t. What a time this will be for your baby who has grown like a glorious flower opening to welcome the warmth of the sun.”
I am grateful for have they have shared.
So… have you been through something similar in letting your child study abroad? Did you, yourself travel far from home and feel a range of emotions? I would love hear from you.
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