Happy Monday!

It’s Monday…and not that I’m competitive but just for fun, I’d like to compare my day with yours…and it’s barely noon.

After my great cup of Rock City Coffee (www.rockcitycoffee.com) I turned my computer on to download the weekend’s e-mails. Aside from the usual stock investment tips and opportunities to make $600,000 by helping a poor bureaucrat from Nigeria, I get guest mail.

The first one was from Sarah…we haven’t met yet but she wrote:

Looking for Thursday 6/21 through Sunday 6/24 …WOULD LOVE something right on the water if possible !!!! I am hoping to get a picture perfect site.. to sit and watch the water from the campsite !!

I looked and looked on the web site, and couldn’t see if the “premium sites’ were full hook up with water /elec /sewer..

OK.. let me know… I am hoping you can tell me specific sites that are available !!

Thank you
Sarah

PS.. LOVEEEE the blog !!

Now how could I not find this cheerful person the most perfect site available in the campground?…I like her already! There’s a hint in this folks…when you’re looking for a reservation, don’t treat that unknown person at the other end of the phoneline/e-mail like the IRS agent…we’re really here to help 🙂

Another e-mail in my box was:

Hello, from Wiscasset,

Douglas’ PerformanceLois and I are enjoying the warmer weather and are devoting March to getting this old house back on wood burning as the primary heat source, as it was back in the 1830s. Reactivating our fireplace, for the coldest period this Winter, made us realize that the penetrating warmth and the purchase of seasoned wood (in Damariscotta) in quantities that “fit” our VW Camper and the covered, outdoor wood rack, made more sense than cringing when the oil truck pulled up, each month.

Anyway, Lois has belonged to the Arbor Day Foundation for years, which supplies my Rainforest Rescue organic coffee beans, monthly. As a long-time member, she’s eligible for a premium of plants, trees and/or bushes with her renewal.

This year, they are offering her 5 Rose-of-Sharon shrubs, and we’d like to donate them to you, if you’d like to place them somewhere in your attractive grounds. She needs to check a “yes/no” option when sending in her renewal, so if you want the shrubs, let us know, soon. It’s o.k. if you don’t want them, since she can mail in the payment with the “no” option checked.

Hope all is well with you and yours. We are counting the days until Searsport Shores is open. So is Dick, who expressed similar feelings, even after his trip to Nicaragua to visit old friends.

Let us know on the shrubs. Either way is o.k.

Best wishes – your friends,
Douglas & Lois (also Jenny & Gretel)

 

Garden envy is a fault I’m willing to admit to and with the help of Steven and Hannah, I’m always adding to and playing with our planting beds. Of course wrote back quickly and said we’d love to find a home for the shrubs…I’m thinking the garden as you come into the park because there’s a bench situated under the pines and Lois could sit there on warm afternoons.

Finally, I got a brief e-mail from Pat and Steve from Philly:

Postcard Potential?With luck when we do come up we will be have two new additions–a new motorhome (our retirement one) and hopefully a sister for Hakbar. (that is a dog sister) We are longing for summer and have just had a sleet storm here. It is so hard that you walk on top and don’t sink in. I fed the birds this morning and just walked right on top. However, I know that spring is on the way because we have seen robins. In fact just before the storm there were about 75 of them in the fields by my school.

Pat, Steve and Hakbar the furball have been camping with us for three years now and if you want to know where to ride your motorcycle while you’re here, talk with them this July 4th holiday.

If you’ve had a better Monday morning at work, I’d like to hear about it!

Smugly yours,

Astrig

When Should I Come?

A typical phone reservation goes something like this: I answer, “Hello, Searsport Shores Ocean Camping.” The person on the other end of the phone line either says “Hi, how was your winter, how’s the family?” or “I’m thinking of coming to Maine this summer…when should I come?” There’s the 6 million dollar question.

If your vacation time is completely flexible then I suggest you think about the kind of atmosphere you’re hoping to find once you get here. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but there’s a subtle energy shift that happens every couple of weeks in the summer within the waves of guests…After greeting campers at the reservation desk for 15 years, here’s the image in my mind:

Memorial Day brings laughter and hotdogs to all of us…the weather is a crap shoot but the ambiance is always as playful as children in shiny rain boots. Three day weekends have become the norm for many family getaways. Adults make the most of their freedom by lingering over coffee and doughnuts, BBQ’ing for the neighbors and helping kids out with their dusty bicycles. Kids celebrate by daring each other to jump in the cold water and showing off their latest tricks. If you come this weekend, your camping neighbors are most apt to be folks from towns close by…perfect if you want to ask about little known scenic drives or tiny restaurants.
May and the first two weeks of June bring the hardy souls to the campground. Dress in layers because the weather will fluctuate between hot and cold, dry and wet. When you come, welcome whatever the weather may bring and enjoy the solitude of the beaches, the beauty of the Spring gardens and the evening campfires under a million stars. Come in June if you appreciate the “just washed, ready for company” atmosphere of towns where tourism is an eagerly awaited season…oh, and did I mention that we don’t have bugs here on the coast?

Who’s beautiful?July’s visitors are the eager type “A”‘s. They want quick answers for their most pressing questions: “…where should I go? what should I see? when can I start? and how long will it take?” July is when we take advertising videos to prove how beautiful life can be. Maine is the quintessential place to be for a July party. On the 4th, all of the towns have parades and Fireman’s musters, the flags are draped like banners from tiny white Capes and majestic Colonials and the red geraniums in the window boxes are postcard perky. Life feels more festive on the Maine coast during the first weeks of summer than any other time of the year…and you should experience it whenever the opportunity arises.

The first two weeks of August are more relaxed. Guests have had time to enjoy the warmth of the summer sun and are now headed to the coast for our cool breezes and picture perfect evenings. The pace slows down and there’s talk about how the gardens are blooming, which farmer’s market has the best corn and tomatoes, and who’s whale watch has had the most consistent success.

Here’s an insider tip: If you want all the atmosphere of lazy summer days but none of the waiting lines for restaurants and museums, come the week before Labor Day. Many people are busy getting the kids ready for school and some of our prime sites sit empty in the sunshine.

Personally, I would visit Maine from the last week of August until the end of October…and so few people listen to me! The sky is unspeakably blue in September, the ocean water is warm, and the beaches are often sparsely populated or empty. By September, waiters and waitresses have had time to catch their breath and all of us in the guest industry are looking forward to another wave of visitors. The Fall folks seldom have a tight agenda and appreciate the rarity of the warm, long afternoons. They want to really explore our tiny side streets looking at the sea captains homes. They tend to the linger around the cottage gardens and pass the afternoon sipping lemonade in an outdoor cafe.

Photo by Gary Krochmal, 2006Really, September and October are luxurious months. In the late summer and fall, you can count on warm days and cool nights. The best events happen then (I’m thinking Fiber College and the Common Ground Fair) and local vegetables are at their peak. But don’t come to the coast of Maine looking for vibrant foliage…we aren’t the Pine Tree State because the slogan sounds good! Here the atmosphere glows when the pine needles embroider the roads and paths with golden yellow stitches. In sharp contrast, the flowers are bursting in burgandy reds, deep oranges and exotic purples. Fall is such a generous time of year…come and see for yourself.

Calendar of Events

Yesterday I started pulling together our Calendar of Events. Tourism studies show that a visitor to a region considers anything within a two hour radius of their home base to be a reasonable day trip. So between our family and our guests, we compile a table of suggested activities that don’t usually make it into the guide books. Guests can access this calendar on their own computers (Searsport Shores is wi-fi), on the computer station in the rec hall or we’ll print off an itinerary at the reservation desk.

There are thousands of things that go on in Maine and we apply two filters to our choices: Is it authentic? Is it within the magic two hour circle? You may wonder why we care about authenticity rather than popularity. We have one goal in mind for our guests. We want them to return home knowing that they visited a place different from where they came from.

In this age of homogenization, its easy to never leave your comfort zone. Vacations are that magical time when you can add something new to your life. In the most basic way it comes down to where you shop, eat and play. If you need river shoes for a kayak trip you make a choice…you can drive to Walmart and find the same stuff in Rockland, Maine as you do in Trenton, New Jersey or you can shop at Reny’s Department store in Belfast and find something different. If you’re hungry for a doughnut, you can go to the local Dunkin Doughnut’s in Belfast (not a bad choice) or you can go to Weaver’s Bakery and buy apple fritters glazed with their own maple syrup. But you can only make that choice if you know that you have options.

I think you find the same opportunities when you plan a day trip. We could direct our guests to a fair that has the same midway and the same shows as anywhere USA or we can highlight the Common Ground Fair where all of the food must be produced in Maine and afternoon entertainment includes working sheep dogs. We can suggest a big name concert at the Augusta Civic Center or direct guests to the Flye Pointe Art and Music Festival for a day on one of the prettiest shores in the world.

Of course, there’s more work involved in finding and promoting the small events run by volunteers and micro businesses. Yesterday I found that most still aren’t updated with a 2007 schedule…so I have e-mails out all over the place and by this weekend, I’ll have a hot link for you to see some of what we’re suggesting our guests do this summer. If you have a suggestion, please send it along…they’re always welcome!

Yesterday was the day to scratch off 15 items from my to-do list. Because we are fortunate enough to live in a town where small shops are the rule, occasionally this means a trip to the big city…about 45 minutes from here.

The mall area of Bangor looks like anywhere USA. All of the big box stores are there and so is all of the temptation. But the real pleasure lies in its novelty if you only go every few months. This may sound mundane but I bought a nifty new phone log, a new Olympus digital camera, all those Target kinds of supplies that make life simpler and two great old books from the Salvation Army Store.

Once I get past the musty smell of the S.A.S., I love the old book section and the shelves where they sell all the odds and ends of glassware. It must run in my blood because my mother used to haunt these shelves too. I’m always looking for books by Louise Andrews Kent and Elizabeth Goudge. These are women who wrote to capture the general understanding of their lives as they fit into the 1910’s-1970’s. I think the change from horse and carriage to cars was as extreme as we see today with our dependence on DSL and internet…two things I’d hate to live without.

Yesterday I found a book published in 1935, The Arts of Leisure by Marjorie Greenbie. The chapters are delightful. Under the heading of Arts of Solitude you find the Noble Art of Loafing and The Preposterous Art of Self-Indulgence. Under the heading of Arts of Civilization you find The Absorbing Art of Making Things and the Peaceful Art of Growing Things.

Mrs. Greenbie was addressing a public in the midst of a depression and mass unemployment. She writes that if we have less money, we will be less enslaved to mass interests…”if you have no money as a bait, you may be left alone for a few hours, and those hours are your ‘leisure’…and then you discover that there is nothing in life so cheap as joy…” By the mid-1930’s Mrs. Greenbie’s audience is the second generation to have left the farm for the city. Her book reminds people of what social values their grandparents steered by and then draws a road map for getting back to the pleasures of raising raspberries and finding companionship through the Lion’s Club and the Rotary. She tells her audience how to get back to the simple pleasures of being alive. I’m happy to report that 70 years later, she’s still describing my world in Maine.

Someone was once asked what she would do if she heard that the bomb was launched and the world was ending. She paused for a moment and said “I’d drive to Maine.” Why? “Because it always takes 20 years for any change to get there.”

What Was Your Day Like?

Mine was pretty typical. I had lunch at the Belfast Co-op with the executive director of the Islesboro Island Land Trust. We discussed the latest conservation efforts for Sears Island and all the politics of trying to build trust in an internet environment. Maine is huge and technology has really helped us bridge the gap by making communication easy and essentially cost free. But all of the e-mails shooting through cyber space lead to alot more mis-understandings and half baked ideas.

After lunch I bought some locally grown parsnips and carrots for tonight’s soup and ran up the hill (literally because it was -10F with blustery winds) for a loaf of fresh bread from Chase’s Daily. It was voting day for Searsport so I took care of that while the truck was still warm…this year we’re voting for one selectman (we had two choices) and one school board member(only an incumbent). The local reporter from the Waldo Independant was there and we caught up on news for a minute. Before I headed home I stopped at the bank, complained about the cold, made a deposit and dashed back into the truck.

When I got home, I took care of my neglected e-mails, returned reservation phone calls and settled down for a cup of cappuccino and a brownie. While the wind whipped the snow into swirling diamond veils around the trees I worked on our new logo again. Friday I meet with the Pica Design, a local firm, to discuss both the new logo and a brochure.

did I mention it was cold out? I believe that days like today are created to give us a good excuse to eat soup. Tonight’s was barley, lamb and roasted winter vegetables- a medley of parsnips, rutabegas, carrots, potatoes, garlic cloves and leeks. Add a bottle of good red wine, a crusty loaf of bread and a happy husband. Is there more to life?

We’re Having a Nor’easter!

I won’t bore you with another picture of the snow from our window…but it’s so pretty.  Because we live in a tiny house, we can see out the windows on all four sides at the same time…so when you sit on the couch, it’s like living in a snow globe!

Aside from the campground, another passion of mine is bead embroidery.  I love to create highly embellished collars with hundreds of different kinds of beads.  I started a few years ago, compelled by a cover photo from Bead and Button Magazine of a necklace created by Sherri Serafini…it was love at first sight.  It’s a perfect hobby because I can do it anywhere and still be close to the phone for reservations.  Yesterday I finished a collar I started in November ’06.  The colors are black, oranges, slate blues and purples.  For me it evokes the November Coast, walking the beach on a story day at sunset.  The ocean turns to a steely, cold blue but the sky glows in dynamic tones of purple, speckled with silver.  The because November can still be pretty warm, I included greens in the collar to remind me of the hardy green plants growing along the edge of the beach…not to mention the fir trees that topple right down to the high tide mark.

So with no further ado, here are a picture of my newest bead creation.  If you’re curious about others, surf over to the Fiber College website…the link’s on the sidebar. 

A February Walk on the Beach

ice sculptureSteven leaves for work at about 6:45 in the morning. With a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I usually start checking the computer and making a list of things I’d like to accomplish by 7:00. If I don’t make a list which usually includes the amount of time I intend to allocate to each task, I never feel as though I’ve accomplished anything at the end of the day. My first responsibility keep up with guest communications and the reservations. Being almost completely in charge of your own productivity is like sitting beside a jar of your favorite cookies.

Today, after I answered e-mails, did some work on Fiber College(we’re currently recruiting instructors) and plugged away on the new brochure layout, it was time to get some fresh air. Taz the rottweiler and I walked the beach to Moose Point State Park…about a 30 minute walk each way assuming you don’t dawdle too long looking for sand dollars and watching the flotillas of ducks on the Bay. It was really warm and beautiful today without even a whisper of a breeze. Before long I stashed my hat and gloves and just enjoyed the sunshine…one might say this wasn’t a cardiovascular work out!

The recent “thaw” has produced a new crop of free form ice sculptures like the one you see here. This one’s about 5 feet high and 3 feet wide. This is one of the best perks of managing a campground. Tonight I can work until every thing is accomplished but since it’s cold and dark outside, the tasks are more of a pleasure than an imposition.

Back to Paradise

It’s good to be home but you know, the body simply isn’t made to be walking on white sandy beaches one day and crunching through icy snow the next. But at least my tan looks better in Maine than it did in Florida!

campgroundsnow.jpg

This is a picture taken from the bathhouse this morning. The sky couldn’t be bluer and the Bay sparkled but if I could give you a sound track, you’d hear howling winds roaring through the pine trees…a perfect excuse not to go outside today…and make a good put of spaghetti for later on.

When I was booking my plane ticket between here and Sarasota Florida, I used www.kayak.com and found out I could save an extra $100.00 if I was willing to fly out of Bangor and fly into Rockland when I came home. Both airports are about 45 minutes away so I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the deal. The US Air Flights were all great but the highlight was flying into the Rockland Regional Airport. We arrived in a 14 passenger propeller plane and landed in front of a tiny, white modular building…the terminal. The service was excellent, the co-pilot loaded and unload our bags (there were 4 other passengers) and baggage claim was a shoveled spot in the parking lot…marked with a painted rock. I imagine that my experience isn’t any different than some else’s in the 1950’s.

On the way home we stopped in Camden at Cappy’s for a beer and onion rings. You know its off-season when EVERYONE is wearing Bean Boots and the waitress is serving her husband and toddler at the table next door. Real life up here in the Eastern North does not resemble the Alaskan life they show in “Men in Trees.” No low cut shirts around here. And who thinks about putting on Mascara to have a beer with friends in February?

Marketing in the Real World

Last night we had old friends over for shish kebab and Armenian lamb pizza called Lahmajoon. The conversation was lively and after we caught up on general goings-on and ever-developing hobbies, business and marketing dominated the rest of the evening. Sam and Bea’s son owns a car rental business here in Sarasota, Florida (http://www.bnm.com/practical.htm). Practical Car Rental faces the same issues we do in the marketing arena…how does a small business get a place in the spotlight when the advertising world is controlled by the “Big Boys”? For us that’s KOA and CampAmerica, for them it’s Hertz and Avis.

We spend hours every week trying to put ourselves in your shoes. How do you identify your vacation destination? How do you choose a campground? If you’re going to rent a car once you get there, how do you choose the company? What makes your experience so good that you keep the brochure and share it with friends and family? What are the one or two features that make all of the difference in the world? To paraphrase the comments we often receive, the difference between an OK vacation and a fabulous one is well-deserved trust. Both you and I need a clear understanding of what is expected and there must be considerate of each others efforts and obligations.

Like every small business, our marketing dollars are limited and the advertising opportunities are limitless. Every winter we decide where to invest our energy and money. A few years back, we made a decision to buck the trends of marketing by investing in the guest experience rather than in advertising. Actually, my mother started it after an argument that ensued over popsicles. On hot days, she’d greet guests as they drove in with a cold treat…I protested because she was giving away “my” store profit. She was right and I was wrong. A decade later, guests still remember my mother’s gesture, long after they’ve forgotten my advertising efforts.

By not advertising in the big camping books and restaurant placemats, we lose a percentage of summer business that would make us very profitable in the short term. Deciding not to put all of our national ratings on our billboard causes many people drive right past our driveway on their way to Bar Harbor. As a family, we made a decision. We can best weather the typical tourist season ups and downs by choosing our guests carefully, treating them as we would like to be treated and understanding that we cannot be an ideal park for everyone.

Does it strike you as funny when I say that we “choose our guests?” At first glance this is an odd position to take because when you drive into our park, only 2/3’s of the sites might be full. I know that some campers think this is a sign that we’re not doing as well as other places they’ve stayed. A long time ago, we realized that blanket marketing may work for campgrounds looking for the one-time visitors but we want to attract guests who will return anytime they find themselves on the Maine coast.

For Searsport Shores, the almighty marketing question s “where did you hear about us?” Usually we hear, word of mouth or internet posted guest reviews. After tracking the response for 14 years, more than 70% of our guests are returning for another visit or have been sent by friends and family. Does this typify your experience? When you recommend a destination to family and friends, what made it memorable?

Kudos For Us!

 

familyfuncover.jpgThe March 2007 edition of Family Fun Magazine hit the newsstands this week. After the writers visited 250 campgrounds around the country, they narrowed their favorites to a field of nine…and we were among the best in the country for a family vacation. Our “stunning views of the shoreline” and endless beach caused this Disney magazine to call us “a gem.”

At Searsport Shores we’ve addressed family camping from our family’s perspective. My mother always loved the energy of young children and delighted in their imagination. For them she created a recreation hall that is complete with a grandmother’s attic. In her corner there are dresses and accessories fit for a debutante, masks and props for role playing and fantasy creatures and a dedicated space for teddy bear teas. Steven took control of the playground. When he’s not at the campground, he teaches 7th graders at the Troy Howard Middle School. Our playground is equipped with a wide array of climbing and team building activities that push experiential learning to its limits. In another posting I’ll tell you about the nature trails, sensory gardens, self guided kayak tours and other activities.

Family fun at the Shores is meant to be that…families playing together. I know that there are wonderful parks who propose to entertain your children from morning until night…that’s not us. We cater to families who want to spend time with their children and explore our coastal world. Our park is not a place where kids run wild and screaming is par for the course…respect and civility are a requirement of both guests and hosts. During July and August we run an activity each day, generally geared to 7-70 year olds. Every year the activities change but some of the favorites have been Mermaid wand tapestries, felted treasure pouches, pounded flowers, bag pipes at the beach and wild science experiments. Of course, our Saturday night lobsterbakes are legendary and we try and schedule a bonfire for every full moon with music, entertainment or snacks.

Whether you visit with children or not, you can expect quiet evenings, laughter rippling through the park and friendly people. I can’t explain why, but more than anything else we hear from our guests, we hear that we live in a magical place. It was best summed up by Gary Kitchen when he said that pulling into the park is like entering a time warp…he goes back to the 60’s when people sat on their front porch, strangers had time for conversations, and children were captivated by their friends and surroundings…not by the electronics that are stowed in the car. If this sounds too perfect, think again.

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