Traverse City Tourism, northern Michigan’s largest destination marketing organization has formed a merger with the Benzie County Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Traverse Traveler has worked closely with both communities since our inception. So we’d like to give you some perspective on how this regional approach to marketing affects the hospitality industry in northern Michigan. We’ll talk about how the merger impacts hotels and travelers. And we’ll share some perspective from the local business members of both organizations.
Let’s Start with a Regional Approach to Marketing
When we first went into business with our little card displays in 2001 one thing was certain. We knew our marketing was going to represent businesses all around Traverse City, including those in Benzie and Leelanau county. While Traverse City had the most hotels—an important factor since our distribution is based in the hotel lobby—some of the best restaurants and attractions to visit lie off the beaten path, in the small towns that surround the city. So we took a regional approach to marketing. We have displays in all three counties and promote businesses all across the area. I think we had the right idea.
Since 2001 we have worked with hotels, restaurants, and attractions across Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, and Antrim county. We’ve learned that travelers who stay in one community are here to enjoy and experience northern Michigan. That itinerary doesn’t stop at the county line. Guests that stay in one town are more than willing to drive 40 minutes to enjoy a fabulous meal, explore our parks and beaches, shop for souvenirs and wander through our historic towns. But when it comes to our destination marketing organizations (DMOs), whose job it is to market this region nationwide as a vacation destination, lines had to be drawn in the sand. Until now.
When 2 + 1 = 2
As of March 1, 2020 two of our region’s DMOs will become one. The Benzie County Area Convention and Visitors Bureau announced they will be merging with Traverse City Tourism. This merger not only impacts the Benzie CVB members but the Benzie Chamber as well. The Benzie Chamber and Benzie CVB shared staff, offices and a Visitor Center at the corner of M-115 and US-31 in Benzonia. This merger will bring two organizations together and leave one to stand alone.
In the fall of 2019 Mary Carroll, the Executive Director of the Benzie CVB and Benzie Chamber president announced she was leaving. This left the boards with big decisions to make about the future of their organizations. The Benzie Chamber selected Rick Coates to lead their organization starting in January 2020. In a letter to Benzie Chamber members announcing the merger, he shared their perspective,
“Tourism, along with agriculture are the largest economic drivers in Benzie County. Many of our businesses in Benzie are directly impacted by the tourism economy. This transition will serve as a great opportunity to strengthen our tourism industry which is vitally important to the economic health of Benzie County.”
At this time the Visitors Center in Beulah will remain open at the Chamber office in Benzonia. The Chamber will refocus its efforts on the economic development of Benzie county businesses. Lodging members of the Benzie CVB, who voted by referendum to support this union, will see some changes.
The room assessment percentage in Benzie county, a fee which is levied to lodging properties to fund the marketing organization, will increase from the current 2% to 5% to match that of Traverse City Tourism. All assessments and the responsibility for marketing the Benzie CVB members will shift to Traverse City Tourism in March.
In a press release from Traverse City Tourism, director Trevor Tkach shared some insight into the new marketing efforts.
“Collaborating with Benzie County allows us to tell bigger stories about our area’s greatest attractions, like skiing, fishing, golf, trails, watersports, and more.”
Affect on Local Business
We spoke with several of our Benzie County partners in hospitality to get their perspective on this regional approach to marketing and found overwhelming support for the merger.
Steve Campbell, owner of Harbor Lights Resort in Frankfort, is also a board member for the Benzie CVB.
“As a lodging property in Benzie County, we are very excited about this partnership with Traverse City Tourism. It allows our county to leverage the power and reach of TCT to help tell the story of Northwest Michigan not just on a state level, but more regionally, nationally and internationally. This is now more important than ever given the uncertainly of Pure Michigan funding. I am confident that the entire area will benefit from the increased exposure, not only from a tourism standpoint, but the potential long term impact on the economy. Job creation in the tourism industry is one aspect, but long term, the more people that are exposed to this region, the greater the potential to attract more home buyers, entrepreneurs to start or move businesses here, etc. I think this is all very positive.”
There are more than just the lodging properties who will be impacted by creating a larger regional CVB. Restaurants, retailers and attractions also stand to benefit from the increase in marketing that comes with greater resources. Riverside Canoes is located on the Platte River in Benzie county, inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Owner Kyle Orr sees the upside potential for Benzie county businesses.
“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for Benzie county businesses to scale our marketing. By partnering with TCT we gain a larger audience. And the additional dollars collected by the room tax should benefit the Benzie economy greatly, just as the Pure Michigan dollars do for all businesses. We know first hand how many people come from Traverse City to visit us for day trips. This is a win-win for all local economies.”
Impact on the Traveler
Travelers staying in Benzie county will notice the fee assessment increase this season, rising to 5%. That’s the cost of a large ice cream cone on a typical room rate, but for weekly vacation rentals, the hike will be more noticeable. The benefits to both travelers and businesses in the region comes in the form of access to information. Traverse City Tourism will be a broader resource for lodging choices and attraction information. And member properties will have a much larger marketing machine in their corner selling the benefits of Benzie county to travelers from across the globe.
How Can We Help
Traverse Traveler has a variety of marketing opportunities for local businesses to reach travelers staying in hotels. Since Traverse City Tourism will have more buying power to bring visitors to the region, we’re here to make sure they can find out about all this region has to offer.
- Restaurants, wineries and breweries can feature their menu in our Dining Guide.
- Our little card displays located in the hotel lobby are the first choice for guests wanting grab-and-go inspiration. And maps. They love the maps.
- Our visitor channel that plays in-room engages guests through storytelling videos that entertain and inform.
- The Traverse Traveler app includes all you need to know to navigate the region. It’s all-inclusive so every business has a chance to be seen.
As we mentioned at the start, Traverse Traveler has always had a regional approach to marketing. We represent businesses across Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau and Antrim county on ALL of our marketing platforms. We look forward to working with more Benzie county businesses who would like to reach travelers staying in Traverse City. And vice versa, we will continue to expand our distribution of content in Benzie county. We want to ensure their guests can learn about the amazing businesses that make up our little tip of the Mitten state.
Battle of the Rieslings
Who needs basketball match-ups when you can battle it out to see which Riesling reigns supreme! Left Foot Charley is getting in on the March Madness with a Riesling wine contest.
Beginning Thursday March 15 and running for four weeks they will match up current and previous vintages of Left Foot Charley Riesling in a bracket-style tournament. Stop by their winery located at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons to taste, compare and vote for the winners on Thursday and Friday of each week.
Left Foot Charley has chosen 8 wines for the field that range from dry to sweet, pulling from vintages as far back as 2008, including a rare Riesling collaboration never previously offered for tasting or for sale.
The cost is $5 for the samples and the opportunity to vote. Guests who participate each week will be entered to win a $25 Left Foot Charley gift certificate.
We can’t resist a good Riesling, and Left Foot Charley has been producing them for years. Get in on the March fun and join the Riesling Madness. Specialty food pairings from Trattoria Stella as well as cheese and accoutrements will also be available for purchase. Glass pours and bottle sales are a way to extend the enjoyment – and perhaps pick up something unexpected.
Traverse Traveler is proud to announce several free events this week to celebrate autism, promote awareness, and raise money to purchase iPads for students with autism in the Traverse City community.
This year we have once again teamed up with the Northwest Michigan Autism Resource Network (ARN) to bring three free events to the Traverse City community.
April 21: Free Film at The State Theatre | 6 pm
All community members are invited to a free screening of the brand new 2015 documentary, How to Dance in Ohio at the State Theatre. This film has been well received on the film festival circut and will make its debut at The State for our event. The documentary follows a group of teens with autism who spend 12 weeks preparing for a typical teenage rite of passage: a spring formal. Learn how these students tackle the social skills needed to ask someone on a date, invite them to dance and explore the complex world of social dynamics. More information about the film here.
April 24: Light up the Lanes at Lucky Jacks | 4-7 pm
Families of children with autism are invited to join us for a special party at Lucky Jack’s on Garfield Ave where we will Light up the Lanes in their honor. We’ve planned an evening of fun and games including free bowling, treats, and activities. The eight-lane, private 300 Club at Lucky Jack’s as well as the adjacent party room will be reserved for this special event. This is an open house event with no reservations required.
April 25: Sensory-friendly Film at The Bijou | 10:30 am
Sound and light levels will be moderated for this free showing at The Bijou in honor of Autism Awareness Month. Children of all ages will enjoy Rio2, while parents relax knowing that if they get a little loud, or need to get up and move, it’s OK.
Supporting Autism in our Community
Traverse Traveler remains committed to our mission of building awareness about autism, and fundraising to support children with autism in our local schools. In the last three years we have raised over $27,000 and purchased 52 iPads for students with autism in the Traverse City area public schools and T.B.A.I.S.D. We are grateful for the support of our sponsors and donors. If you would like more information about donating or supporting students with autism in our schools please feel free to email email@example.com.
Cherry Festival is over, but the cherry season has just begun. Local cherries are the gems of the northern Michigan summer. Each year we anxiously await the arrival of the ruby fruit that brings visitors to the area, and keeps many of our businesses running.
Whether you like sweet cherries by the pound, tart cherries for your pies, dried cherries for snacking, cherry wine or cherry products, you can find it in the Cherry Capitol of the world… Traverse City.
Cherry Fun Facts
- Michigan grows 75 percent of the US crop of tart cherries, and about 20 percent of sweet cherries
- Northern Michigan is responsible for 90 percent of the state’s sweet cherry production
- There are close to 7000 cherries on the average tart cherry tree, enough for 28 pies
- The World Record for spitting a cherry pit is now 100 feet 4 inches, held by “young gun” Krauss, son of 10 time record holder “pellet gun” Krause
- It takes 100 cherries to produce an 8 oz. glass of cherry juice
- Ease arthritis pain and inflammation naturally with cherry juice, thanks to the anthocyanins, which give tart cherries their color
- Michigan cherry wine is made primarily from Montmorency cherries
- Peninsula Cellars is the only area winery to produce a white cherry wine, made from the Emperor Francis cherry
U-Pick Farms & Farm Stands
Some of my favorite childhood memories are from roaming the U-Pick farms. We’d lug around our galvanized buckets and climb the rickety old wooden ladders to carefully select the largest, juiciest, ripest cherries. When the buckets were full, or too heavy to carry, we’d know it was time to go home. It took a long swim in the lake to get rid of the purple stained fingers, but it was worth the memories.
For a list of local U-Pick farms, check out LocalDifference.org
Buy Traverse City Cherries
If you’re looking to pick up some fresh cherries on your visit up north there are plenty of options. A drive along the Old Mission or Leelanau Peninsula will offer several roadside opportunities to buy direct from the grower. And you can’t beat the scenic views along the way. Eating fresh washed cherries from a roadside stand always makes my Summer To-Do List.
For those of you who prefer your cherry products without the pits, Benjamin Twiggs in Traverse City has everything you could ever need. From cherry-themed merchandise, to cherry products of all kinds, you’ll find all your cherry dreams come true at Benjamin Twiggs, the oldest cherry purveyor in Traverse City. And they’ll even ship if you’re craving a taste of Michigan from far away.
Tips and Tricks
- Cherries with the stems attached will stay fresh longer
- To remove cherry stains from fingers and clothing try a little lemon juice, and rinse with water
- For an inexpensive cherry pit remover try placing a metal pastry tip on your finger and pushing them out. A bobby pin or a bent paper clip can be used to scoop out the pit and only leaves one hole.
Traverse Traveler is proud to announce several free events this April to celebrate autism, promote awareness, and raise money to purchase iPads for students with autism in our community.
This year we have teamed up with the Northwest Michigan Autism Resource Network (ARN) to bring four free events to the Traverse City community.
April 4: Light up the Lanes at Lucky Jacks | 4-7 pm
To kick-off Autism Awareness month we’re inviting families of children with autism to a special party at Lucky Jack’s on Garfield Ave where we will “Light it up Blue” in their honor. We’ve planned an evening of fun and games including free bowling, treats, and activities. The eight-lane, private 300 Club at Lucky Jack’s as well as the adjacent party room will be reserved for this special event.
April 14: Film and panel discussion at Bijou by the Bay | 6 pm
All community members are invited to a free screening of the 2009 documentary, The Horse Boy at the Bijou by the Bay theater. This hit on the film festival circuit chronicles the journey of the Isaacson family as they travel to Mongolia hoping to find a nomadic shaman to heal their five-year-old son’s autism. A moderated panel discussion will follow the movie, offering the community a place to ask questions, dispel myths and learn about how autism affects people in the Grand Traverse area.
April 16: ARN monthly speaker | 6:30 pm
Karin Chandler, founder of Life Solutions for Autism, will speak on developing a childs skills to enable independence at the regular ARN monthly parent support group meeting. Advocating for and Empowering Children with Autism will be presented at Munson Medical Center room 11 (lower level).
April 27: Sensory-friendly film at The State | 10 am
Sound and light levels will be moderated for this free showing of one of Thomas the Tank Engines feature-length adventures. Children of all ages will enjoy Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue, while parents relax knowing that if they get a little loud, or need to get up and move, it’s OK.
Donating to iPads for Autism
Traverse Traveler remains committed to our mission of raising funds to help children with autism in our local schools. In the last two years we have raised over $25,000 and purchased 47 iPads for TCAPS students with autism as a partner in education. This year we will continue to raise money for ipads through voluntary donations collected at all events.
In addition, we’re thrilled to announce all four Traverse City area Walgreens stores will collect donations for iPads for autism throughout the month of April.
What will you do on New Year’s Eve?
If you’re like me New Year’s Eve sneaks up on you after a long holiday of feasts, friends and family. Sometimes we have a plan, and sometimes we’re making it up as we go along. So for all you last minute planners out there here are a few ways to enjoy New Year’s Eve up north.
The CherryT Ball Drop
If you’ve ever dreamed of making it to Times Square on New Year’s Eve to be a part of huge crowds chanting a countdown to ring in the new year, then this option is for you (in a much smaller scale of course). Downtown Traverse City is bustling on New Year’s Eve during the CherryT Ball Drop. No that’s not a spelling error. The CherryT stands for Chartity ball, as the event is a fundraiser by design. The entrance fee is a $3 cash donation or 3 canned goods, with proceeds benefiting the Goodwill Food Pantry.
For all the details about this year’s CherryT Ball Drop visit their website.
Looking for a family-friendly way to count down to 2014? How about glow bowling, music, pizza and enough arcade games to keep the kids busy for hours. You’ll find it all at Lucky Jacks from 5:30pm – 8:30pm on New Year’s Eve. If whipping your friends at laser tag or on the pool table sounds better than freezing outside, why let the kids have all the fun? Show up later for the adult party. It lasts from 9pm – 1am.
Hoping to celebrate outdoors, but not interested in the big ball drop crowds? How about donning your skis for a torchlit parade followed by fireworks? That’s what’s in store at Crystal Mountain Resort this year. There’s an ultimate family pirate party the kids will enjoy, or join the Slopeside party for dinner and dancing along with a champagne toast. Party cover varies. Lift ticket or season pass required to participate in the torchlit parade.
Shimmers on the Bay inside the West Bay Beach Holiday Inn Resort has two times the fun this year. They’ve got two bands: Soul Celebration & Twice Shy, along with DJ Shawny D as the host. Rock in the New Year with party favors, an old-fashioned balloon drop, champagne toast and lots of dancing fun. $15 cover
If you’re a fan of Billy Strings & Don Julin you’ll want to be at InsideOut Gallery for the Swingin’ Stringin’ New Year’s Eve. For a $10 admission you can enjoy the sounds of the True Falsettos and legendary aforementioned duo who will take you clappin’ and toe tappin’ into 2014. There’s a full bar available at the Outre Lounge, or step out for a craft beer and a bite next door at the Workshop Brewing Company.
I know it’s challenging to find the time to scour the stores hunting for the perfect gift. So each year I sneak out to our local retailers in search of eye catching items for someone special on your list. I hope these suggestions will get the holiday spirit flowing. Each item includes a price (or price range) and the northern Michigan store where it can be purchased. I encourage you to shop local and help boost the economy in our own backyard. (more…)
The Traverse Traveler Scavenger Hunt for Autism committee donated 20 iPads with the proceeds from the second-annual event. The iPads were presented on Monday, September 9th to Traverse City Area Public Schools for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Kathy DiMercurio – Volunteer Chair
Kara Eubank – Lucky Jacks, sponsor
Carol Lorenz – Activities Chair
Brandy Wheeler – Event Founder
Kate Daggett – Donations Chair
Jame McCall – TCAPS Special Education
Back row (L-R):
Lisa Woodcox – Disability Network, committee member
Michelle Hazard – Network Traverse City, committee member
Kelly Hall – TCAPS Board President
Steve Cousins – TCAPS Superintendent
Josh Russell – Jimmy Johns, sponsor
Nick Nerbonne – Social Media Chair
Greg Nickerson – CityMac, sponsor
On a slushy day in April, 237 participants braved unseasonable weather to navigate the streets of downtown Traverse City for the second-annual Scavenger Hunt for Autism. Teams used the Traverse Traveler app and a QR code reader to discover downtown businesses, check-in and unlock a clue for an activity at each location. Volunteers stationed at every venue assisted with the on-site challenge, and handed out prize tickets. Fifty-nine teams made up of families, educators, children with autism and disabled adults encountered puzzles and games that challenged their brains, their sense of direction, and teamwork.
The event, sponsored by Lucky Jacks, was a fundraiser for the iPads for Autism program at Traverse City Area Public Schools, a pilot program started in 2011 to provide iPads for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Traverse Traveler became a Partner in Education with TCAPS in order to grow this program.
The Scavenger Hunt fundraiser generated donations from event sponsors, team registrations and private donors. Paired with contributions from the Light it up Blue event in early April, Traverse Traveler raised over $10,700 for the iPads for Autism Program in 2013. Donated iPads will be utilized by elementary and secondary students throughout the TCAPS district.
“When we started this fundraiser it was extremely difficult for a student with autism to have access to an iPad unless mandated by their I.E.P (individualized education plan). In two years we’ve raised over $25,000 and added 47 new iPads to bridge the gap between what’s mandatory and what’s necessary,” said event founder, Brandy Wheeler. “I’m extremely proud of our committee and thankful for the generous donations from this community.”
Jame McCall, special education director for TCAPS, recognized Brandy and the committee for the iPad donation and added, “More than that, more than the tangible things, the awareness in the community has been incredible.”
For more information on the Traverse Traveler Scavenger Hunt for Autism visit our website TraverseTraveler.com/Autism or find us on Facebook.
Summer has returned to Northern Michigan. The geese are swimming, the beaches are full, and unfortunately Swimmer’s itch is popping up on some of our favorite lakes.
We had our first dose of the pesky malady a few years ago, so now I’m prepared when it shows up. But for those who are new the area, Swimmer’s Itch can send you running for dry ground. Before you give up on swimming in our salt-free waters I thought I’d share some handy tips on how to prevent and treat Swimmer’s Itch.
What is Swimmer’s Itch?
If you’re squeemish you may want to gloss over this section as it’s not too pleasant to visualize the source of these scratchy bumps. Swimmer’s Itch is caused by a flatworm parasite. The larvae of the cercaria parasite travel between their water snail host and their intended water fowl host. When they come in contact with human skin they burrow in and immediately die as we are not hospitable. The raised itchy bump is an immune reaction to each site where a parasite has entered the epidermis. These parasites are a not harmful to humans beyond the discomfort of the bumps.
So what can you do to keep from ruining your vacation in northern Michigan with a case of the itch?
6 Tips to Prevent and Treat Swimmer’s Itch
1. Avoid Busy Beaches – Swimmer’s Itch is most common in highly populated beaches where ducks, especially the merganser duck, and snails are commonly found. Avoiding these swimming areas will decrease your chances of coming in contact with the parasite in the first place. Deeper water and moving water, such as rivers, are also less likely to carry the larvae in search of hosts.
2. Towel Off – Kids are most susceptible to swimmers itch as they tend to spend long amounts of time in shallow water and air dry. Try to towel off agressively after each swim.
3. Protect Your Skin – Creating a waterproof barrier seems to help prevent the parasites from burrowing into the skin. One way to do that is with Baby Oil. But you’re going to want sunblock to go under that. And kids are squirmy enough putting on one protective layer, much less two. We’ve discovered two brands of sunblock that do the job. Bullfrog gel sunblock works pretty well and is readily available in most stores. But we’ve had the best luck with a Wisconsin product called Swimmer’s Itch Guard. It’s made from natural ingredients, smells and feels a lot like vapor rub, but it works like a dream. This is the best prevention we’ve found. You can find it in a few Traverse City stores, and order it online here: swimmersitchguard.com It’s pricy, but if your kids plan to spend much time in the water it’s well worth it.
4. Don’t Panic – If you get the dreaded itch don’t panic and swear off swimming for the rest of the season. The bumps will itch for a day or two then they’ll just be red and ugly but not painful. The more sensitive your skin is the more susceptible you are to the parasites. I’ve swam with my kids and never got it when they’ve been covered. So it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Unfortunately if you’ve had it once, you’re more likely to get it again.
5. Treatment – Applying an antihistamine creme on the spots to help with the itch, or swallowing a dose of Benadryl if it’s really bad, has always helped my family. The bumps will go away in about a week. (The worst part is the fearful look you get from strangers who think you have a raging case of measles.)
6. Don’t Feed the Ducks! – Waterfowl like merganser ducks, Canada geese, swans, and mallards are the hosts of these parasites. The eggs are returned to the water in the duck feces thereby repeating the life cycle. When the ducks are fed at beaches they congregate there thus making those sites especially susceptible to Swimmer’s Itch. On lakes where swimmer’s itch is common you can expect every common merganser duck is infected and capable of spreading the parasite.
Swimmer’s Itch is a pain, and unfortunately it seems to be growing in prevalence in Northern Michigan lakes, instead of receeding. But I hate to hear mothers swearing to keep their kids out of the lake for the summer because of an early case of the itch. Follow these steps and hopefully your summer will be filled with splashing and fun instead of itching and scratching.
For more information on Swimmer’s Itch visit this website from Hope College: http://www.swimmersitch.org
Join us as we “Light It Up Blue” a World Autism Awareness Day, family-friendly event in downtown Traverse City on Tuesday, April 2.
Light It Up Blue begins at 6 p.m. April 2 at ECCO, 121 E. Front St., with food and fun activities with a blue theme. Glowing luminaries will be available for purchase for $5, with proceeds to benefit the Traverse City Area Public Schools iPads for Autism program.
Downtown merchants are encouraged to decorate their storefronts in blue in honor of the event. At 7:30 p.m. participants will carry the luminaries along Front Street to the Open Space. At the Open Space, participants will place the blue glowing lanterns in the shape of a puzzle piece, another symbol of autism. The event will be captured on video and an overhead photo with the community will be taken to show Traverse City’s participation in “Light it up Blue.”
Blue luminaries are available for purchase in advance at Old Mission Traders, 215 E. Front St.
If you live in the Traverse City area we encourage you to come down for this fun event. But even if you can’t we encourage everyone to Light it up Blue whereever you are. Here’s what you can do:
- Wear blue clothing, nail polish even hair paint
- Turn your porch light blue with a bulb from Home Depot. Special bulbs are for sale with proceeds to benefit Autism Speaks
- Decorate your door, your yard or your desk in blue or with puzzle pieces, the symbol of Autism
Light It Up Blue is a worldwide event in which participants seek to light prominent landmarks blue to help raise awareness of autism, a developmental disorder now estimated to affect one in 50 children. In Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge will be lit blue on April 2. Other prominent buildings have included the Empire State Building in New York City and the CN Tower in Canada.
In Traverse City, Light It Up Blue is organized by the Scavenger Hunt for Autism, a fundraising event set for April 13 that will also benefit TCAPS’ iPads for Autism Program.
“We’re excited to add this prelude event this year to further increase autism awareness,” Scavenger Hunt founder Brandy Wheeler said. “Kids, parents, grandparents and community members of all ages in between are invited to help make the Open Space as blue as the bay.”
Writing a Holiday Gift Guide has become a tradition. I realize scouring the stores in search of the perfect gift isn’t for everyone. So I try to help out this time of year and do a little hunting on your behalf. Secretly I’m also trying to show some support for our local retailers who work so hard to find unique items that rival that of chain stores and online giants. Why buy big box, when you can buy local and boost the economy in our own backyard.
This year I’ve divided my shopping list into the following categories. I hope you’ll find something that’s just right for a friend or loved one.
Goodies for Foodies
All Geeked Out
Wine About It
Hostess with the Mostest
For the Kiddos
Goodies for Foodies
Sleeping Bear Farms Raw Honey | MI Farm Market $12.99
One of my absolute favorite food discoveries this year is this raw honey from Sleeping Bear Farms in Beulah, Michigan. This is natural, uncooked, unfiltered honey. It’s a little cloudy and granular but all the better for it. And it’s full of health benefits from the enzymes, pollen and floral essences the bees leave behind. One of my secret weapons against a cold is a teaspoon of this honey the moment I feel a sore throat coming on. Honey has antibacterial qualities. And who doesn’t love an excuse to eat a spoonful of goodness!
Cranberry Cherry Sauce | The Cherry Stop $7.00
We love our cherry products in Northern Michigan. But sometimes it’s hard to find something new for the cherry lover in the family. Here’s one I discovered on a recent trip to the Cherry Stop. Instead of the traditional cranberry sauce with your turkey this year why not liven it up with cranberry cherry sauce. No need for a recipe, the folks at The Cherry Stop have mixed up a batch with just the right blend.
Cookbook Samplers | Fustini’s $49.00
Anyone who has seen my kitchen counter knows how much I love Fustini’s. And I’ve given their oil & vinegar combinations as gifts in the past. So what’s new this year? They have a brand new cookbook, “How Fustini’s Do Fustini’s,” a compilation of recipes from Fustini’s employees and customers. And for the holidays they’ve paired it with 4 mini bottles of oils & vinegars in flavor combos that work with the book. Choose from 4 sampler packages and try something new this season.
Handmade Wooden Tongs | Gallery 50 $15.00 and $19.00
Why not have a little fine art in the kitchen? Stop by Gallery 50 in The Village Mercato and choose from a selection of handmade wooden tongs. Constructed from beautiful materials like zebrawood and rosewood, and available in large or small sizes, these handmade tongs are as stylish as they are functional. Great gift idea for men and women, for the chef or the casual cook.
Sleeping Bear Farms Pepper Honey Mustard | MI Farm Market $4.99
Mustard is probably my favorite condiment, next to homemade salsa. So it’s nice to find a fun new alternative to the store bought standbys. This Pepper Honey Mustard has a great kick from real chili peppers. And of course it includes some Sleeping Bear Farms star thistle honey. Great for spreading on sandwiches, as a dip for pretzels or as a glaze on fish or meats headed for the grill.
All Geeked Out
Rocker iPhone Case | The Pod Drop $19.00
Cases for the iPhone 5 are somewhat hard to find since they’re still new on the market. But The Pod Drop has you covered. Stop by their location in Campus Plaza next to Jimmy Johns and check out the line of Rocker cases. The silicone skin pairs with a hard body case (sold separately), and comes in dozens of colors and patterns, which make these cases completely customizable. And at $8.99 for the skin, and $9.99 for the cover, they’re priced right for stocking stuffers too.
Smartphone Gloves | Nest $27.00
As you can imagine, I’m on my iPhone all the time, especially when I’m out and about town. Now that winter is here I’m constantly removing my gloves so I can answer a call, scroll through messages on Twitter or snap a photo on Instagram. I’ve tried other versions of smartphone gloves with little luck…and they weren’t very cute either. That’s why I love these knit gloves I found at Nest. Cute and functional.
FRUITstand | CityMac $10.00
Here’s a cool local product for the tech geek. FRUITstand is a simple plastic-coated stand to hold a variety of eDevices, or iDevices if you prefer. It’s small, lightweight, and best of all it’s made by a Traverse City company, PDM Industries. I discovered the FRUITstand on a recent trip into CityMac. They’re available in a variety of fresh colors. Whether you’re looking for a landing spot for your Kindle, or a charging station for you iPhone or iPad, this little stand will do the trick. And at that price if you take it on vacation and forget it you won’t sweat the replacement cost. Now if you forget your device…that’s another story.
Piperoid Paper Pipe Robots | Cool Stuff Express $15.95
For the kid, or the kid at heart, there’s a big trend in paper art and origami. These cool creations are made from printed and punched paper pipes that are folded into crazy robots. Does your cubicle need a little comic entertainment? If you thought origami was too girly, this might change your mind.
Mini Q-Man & Q-Ant Magnets | Cool Stuff Express $3.97 — $6.95
Trying to find something for that hard-to-buy-for teen in your family? Guys, gals and geeks will love these bendable, flexible, colorful magnet men and giant ants. The powerful magnets stick to each other or metal surfaces allowing for connectable, collectable fun. They’re also strong enough to support 14 sheets of paper! Hang ’em in a locker, file cabinet or on the fridge. Image courtesy of Cool Stuff Express
Starry Night Necklace | Becky Thatcher Designs starting at $275.00
I love a classic necklace that can dress up an outfit, or be worn with a casual sweater and jeans. That’s what drew me to this beautiful jewelry from Becky Thatcher Designs in Traverse City. Made from black spinel and freshwater pearls in a variety of shades from white to gray this necklace would be a lovely addition to anyone’s jewelry collection. And the matching earrings start at $65. Perfect.
Return of Sexy Eyeshadow Collection | Venus $48.00
Ladies who love a little drama will be drawn to this wet/dry eyeshadow collection from Too Faced. There are three color collections, 15 shadows full of sparkle and dimension, a waterproof black liner and eyeshadow insurance (a primer for your eyelids). That’s bringin’ sexy back.
Surprise Book of the Month | Brilliant Books $66.00 – $295.00
This is a brilliant idea from Brilliant Books. If you have a literary fan who is always searching for a new read, consider giving them a new title every month. Each subscription is unique because the book selections are based on the reader’s preferences in genre, author, likes and dislikes. You can give a year of hardcover books ($295) or paperback ($185) or choose 6-month or 4-month options for as little as $66. In the six years since they started the program they’ve only had three books come back for exchange — and two were because the recipient already read and loved the selection.
Felted Wool Hats by Hatty Matty | Lilies of the Alley $24.95 — $64.95
A handmade hat is a statement of style. And in northern Michigan it’s practically a necessity. I love these beautiful hats from Hatty Matty, aka Cindy Hardy the owner of Lilies of the Alley. These felted wool hats come in all sorts of styles and colors. And there are sizes for kids as well as adults with a range in prices for each. In case you’ve never been, Lilies of the Alley is tucked in the alley behind Brew and Brilliant Books in downtown Traverse City.
Lips & Tips | Venus $25.00
This cute combo comes from the folks at Butter, a London brand know for their fashion-forward colors. The nail polish and lip gloss from Butter is vegan-friendly, making this a great gift for the animal lover too. Venus carries a full line of Butter nail polish selections, but I especially loved some of their holiday line which is full of sparkle for the glam affect. Every girlfriend needs a little glitter, right?
Wine About It
2-in-1 Corkscrew & Bottle Stopper | Gallery 50 $35.00
Need a classy gift for your boss? Are you going to a holiday party and looking for something for the hostess who has everything? Choose from a selection of hand-turned wooden bottle stoppers. Twist the handle and you’ll revel the corkscrew hidden inside. I’m loving the green ones, made from box elder wood.
Stack wine bottle storage | Cool Stuff Express $9.95
This clever little black silicone wine bottle is the secret to storing your wine in a stack on the counter just like you’re supposed to… horizontally. Simply separate the bottle into two halves and position on either side of your wine bottles along a shelf or counter. The silicone grips to smooth surfaces and acts like bookends for your wine. Image courtesy of Cool Stuff Express
Cork Purses | Gallery 50 $45.00 – $78.00
I am crazy for corks. In fact, I’ve created a whole Pinterest board dedicated to cork crafts. But I have yet to see another cork craft like this. Artist Jean Ackerman from Kingsley, Michigan is creating cork purses, many of which are decorated with corks from Michigan wineries. If you’re looking for a unique gift for a Michigan wine lover I think we’ve got you covered.
Sport Wine Canteen | Black Star Farms $26.50
Backpackers and beach goers will love this new canteen available in Rouge (red) and Blanc (green). If you’ve ever wanted to bring a bottle of wine to the park, on the boat or on a picnic, but worried about the glass bottle this is the perfect solution. These eco-friendly metal containers will fit a full bottle of wine! Take your vino to go, and no one will know. Comes in a variety of colors. Available at TASTES of Black Star Farms in The Village.
Rosé of Cabernet Franc | Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery $26.00
With hundreds of Michigan wines to choose from, it’s tough to narrow it down to one. So this is one of many that make up my list of favorites. The Rosé of Cabernet Franc from Forty-Five North is a great choice for holiday gifting because it suits so many palattes. I drink mosty whites, and lean toward the sweet, but this wine I love. My husband loves a good red, and he too was drawn to this rosé. Notes from the winemaker alude to big aromas of cherry and raspberry, a creamy mouth feel and noticeable tannins. This wine is great to give as well as receive. Image courtesy of Forty-Five North
Hostess with the Mostest
Soy Votive Candles | Red Ostrich $6.95
Looking for the hot seller this season? Search no further than these little beauties from Red Ostrich. Forget the tequila, pick up a double shot of soy. Soy candles that is. They carry 25 scents including the popular orange vanilla, black pepper and holiday spice. These tiny 2 oz. candles are an eco-friendly gift that everyone can enjoy. They burn clean and smell wonderful and are Made in the USA. Image courtesy of Red Ostrich
Paper Blanks | Premier Floral $17.00 – $29.00
It’s so much nicer to keep a journal when the process of holding and opening it are a pleasure. This collection of lined and unlined journals from Paper Blanks are really beautiful. I love the texture of the covers, and they have a lovely metal latch closure that harkens back to locked diaries and forbidden secrets. With traditional patterns these designs would also be suitable for man who loves to write or draw, or for use as a cottage guest book.
Turtle Doves Soaps | Venus $32.00
Your friends will feel so special when presented with this pretty package dressed in silver moire. Open it up and discover two turtle doves made of silky soap scented with tulip and hyacinth, resting in a porcelain bowl. It’s elegant enough for your mother-in-law to put next to the towels in the guest bath or thoughtful enough for your dearest friend.
Dog Pillows | Premier Floral $25.00
If your friend is a dog lover they’ll fall for these colorful and cozy pillows inspired by their four-legged friends. The moment I saw the Boston Tea Terrier I thought of my best friend who grew up with the bug-eyed little cuties. There are several designs to choose from including Eager Beagle and Black Lab Summer Cottages.
Twig Pencils | Gallery 50 $7.50 or $9.50
If your host is a letter writer, or they love the lodge look, these pencils will be a handy addition to their desk. If not, they’ll look great in a cup next to the phone at the cottage. Either way, these fat twig pencils, available in traditional or colored varieties, make a great hostess gift or stocking stuffer for the kids. Need to get to the point? Simply carve with a knife to sharpen the tip.
For the Kiddos
Magnetic Boards | Sweet Pea $14.95 / $22.95
Room decor is tough when the kids interests change every year. So why not keep it flexible and give them a magnetic board that looks great and can be decorated with the recipient in mind. These scalloped-edged metal squares are available in 12″ x 12″ or 18″ x 18″ sizes in several colors. This company sells a huge variety of magnet designs to completely customize the board. From alphabet letters to animals to holidays and more.
GamaGo Phoney | Cool Stuff Express $4.95
The latest trend coming from Japan are these cute little animals to decorate your tween’s phone. They plug into the headphone jack, which means they’ll fit nearly any style smartphone, tablet or MP3 player. “A friend for your phone,” they say. Kids will love to collect these little plastic pets and customize their tech gadgets.
Children’s Books | Brilliant Books $15.99 – $16.99
I stopped in to Brilliant Books to get a few recommendations for new titles the kids might like. Extra Yarn, The Cloud Spinner and This is Not My Hat would be great books for children 4-9 years old. They have colorful illustrations and stories that help children appreciate the value of Things. For more recommendations visit Brilliant Books and ask for Heather or Jack.
Crazy Candy | Cool Stuff Express prices vary
Kids always love what’s gooey, gross and flavored in unexpected ways. Cool Stuff Express on Union Street in Traverse City has a huge collection of all of the above. Some of this year’s most popular trends include anything with mustaches or bacon, tongue tattoos, flavored lipbalm and mints. And for the boys and girls who were less than cheery this holiday season: the classic gummy candy coal.
Elf on the Shelf | Toy Harbor $31.00
If you’re looking for a fun and engaging activity book to share with your children or grandchildren during the holiday season pick up an Elf on the Shelf. The book comes with an elf (boy or girl elf options now available) and a story book explaining how Santa sends scout elves out each Christmas to report on chilldren’s behavior. Once opened the children can name and register the elf at elfonashelf.com. Thanks to Christmas magic the elf travels each night to see Santa, and reappears in your home in a different location. My kids love finding out what our elf, Scuttle, has been up to while we were sleeping.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my collection of Holiday shopping ideas. You can find all of these items in northern Michigan stores, and many are available on their respective websites as well. Please spend some of your time and money this season supporting our local economy. Your gifts will be more unique, and your money will stay in the community.
Happy Holidays from Traverse Traveler!
Planning a fall color wine tour in Northern Michigan this year? We’ve gathered a few tips to make the most out of your next wine tasting trip from Traverse City to Leelanau or Old Mission Peninsula.
What to Bring
• Camera. The wineries are beautiful any time of year, but especially in the fall during harvest season. You’ll want a few pics to remember your trip.
• Money. Many of the wineries now have tasting fees. Bring cash to cover fees where you might not purchase a bottle of wine. Each winery’s policy is different.
• Bottled water. Here’s a tip from the Kathy at Bel Lago, “For a successful wine tour, drink as much water as you do in wine. And be sure to eat.”
• Snacks. Cheese spreads, breads, crackers and fruit all pair well with wine and won’t spoil your palette for the wines you’ve yet to taste.
• Smartphone. The Traverse Traveler app was designed with the wine tourist in mind. This handy mobile guide will help you research, plan and navigate a wine tour in northern Michigan. And best of all, it’s a free download for iPhone and Android users.
What to Leave at Home
• “Don’t wear lipstick.” This tip is from Caryn at 2 Lads Winery. It’s not just the marks on the glass that are left behind. Lipstick imparts flavors like petroleum and other chemicals when wine passes over your lips.
• No perfume. It ruins your tasting experience, and everyone elses. The scent of one person’s perfume can contaminate the air in a tasting room for hours.
• Cigarettes. Your sense of smell is a large part of the wine tasting experience. And smoke is a very stong scent. Like perfume it affects those around you. So please leave the smokes in your car.
• Gum. You can’t taste past it, especially mint. So stow the Altoids and TicTacs too.
• Dogs & Kids. A wine tour is meant for the 21+ crowd. While you may see a few wine dogs throughout your travels, several of the tasting rooms offer food pairings, which means it’s against their health code to have dogs in the winery. So as a general rule, take the kids and pets to the beach or the park, but not on a wine tour.
Planning Your Wine Tour
With nearly three dozen wineries in our tip of the mitten it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out where to start. Here are a few tips on planning a wine tasting route from Traverse City.
• You can’t see them all. Make a list of favorites, or recommended wineries you want to be sure to visit, and squeeze in others as time allows.
• Stick to one peninsula. There are two distinct AVAs in our region: Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission. Stick to one or the other for a one-day trip. The wineries are scattered throughout each peninsula making it difficult to jump back and forth.
• There’s an app for that! Use the Wineries category on the Traverse Traveler app to choose which stops you want to make. The maps are great for navigating between wineries via backroads for a more scenic tour, or finding the fastest route.
• Map it. Pick up the large map from the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. If you’re not a smartphone user this will be a hands-on resource for finding your way around both peninsulas.
• Beware of high traffic times. If you’re wine tasting during peak fall season your best days are mid week. If you must come on a weekend be prepared for crowds. Most of our wineries have small tasting rooms with even smaller tasting bars. On a busy weekend you may have to wait to get a turn at the bar.
• Go off the beaten path. Most tasting rooms in Leelanau and Old Mission are lucky to be located near the vineyard. But that vineyard isn’t necessarily on a major highway. Part of the fun is exploring and discovering new locations. Start at the top of the peninsula and work your way south. Or make a plan to stay inland and visit some of the smaller boutique wineries.
There are some special considerations to planning a wine tour when you’re traveling with a group. Here are some tips to maximize the fun and minimize the hassle when planning a group wine tour.
• Size matters. Wine tasting with friends can be a wonderful experience. But if your group is too large it can cause problems which detract from your enjoyment. In our experience a group of 10 or less is the ideal size. Larger groups will have additional limitations on where you can go, how quickly you will move from place to place, and tasting room fees.
• Carpool. Part of the fun of a group wine tasting is comparing notes about each winery with your companions as your travel. Pile into one person’s vehicle, rent a van, or book a wine tour. And if at all possible, assign a designated driver. Listen to Ellie at Traverse City Tours who warns, “Don’t come on vacation and leave on probation.”
• Large groups call ahead. For wine tours larger than 10 you should call ahead to each winery. Some tasting rooms are so small they do not allow buses or tours at all, and others have per person tasting fees for the entire party. These are not things you want to discover after you’ve driven across the peninsula to visit.
• Label wine purchases. Hopefully your group will discover many wines they like and purchasing bottles at each location. Pick up a box from the first stop. Using a Sharpie marker label each wine purchased with your initials, or used color coded garage sale stickers. Add additional boxes as needed. When the tour is complete it will be easy to determine which wine was purchased by whom.
• Pack a picnic. It’s important to eat and drink water throughout your wine tour. For a fun experience pack a cooler with cheese, fruit, crackers and bite-sized appetizers or sandwiches. Many of the wineries have picnic tables or areas outside where you can stop and enjoy your snack along the route. There are also markets and farm stands scattered throughout the peninsulas to pick-up snacks along the way.
• Be patient. “Be respectful of other tasters and wait patiently if there’s a crowd,” says Chaning at Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery. When you’re traveling as a group this is especially important since you may have to break into smaller groups, or taste in shifts.
We’ve been on several group wine trips and completely agree with Kyle from Riverside Canoes who says, “My best wine tasting tip is to go tasting with your closest friends. The wine always tastes better!.”
Sip Tips from the Pros
Winemakers and tasting room staff are incredibly knowledgeable about their products and their craft. Here are a few of their tips for making the most of a northern Michigan wine tasting experience.
• It’s OK to spit. Ask Bel Lago winemaker Cristin Hosmer and she’ll tell you, “Spitting is OK. In fact it’s encouraged.” It cuts down on your consumption of alcohol. So remember, “The dump bucket is your friend.”
• Chew your sparkles. When tasting a sparkling wine, “You don’t want to drink bubbly like you kiss your grandmother.” If you’ve been pursing your lips when you sip sparkling wine from a glass you’ve got it all wrong. Instead,“Chew, hold and slowly swallow,” instructs Don at L. Mawby. By chewing the wine the bubbles explode in your mouth allowing the flavors to disperse. Try it. It’s a whole new experience.
• Eat mild not wild. “Don’t eat strong flavored foods — onion, garlic and spicy dishes — before or during a wine tour,” warns Coryn of Black Star Farms. While a bottle of wine may pair well with some of these dishes, the pungent flavors will linger throughout your wine tour affecting the rest of the wines you taste.
• Not a free drunk. Wine tasting is not a free ticket to inebriation. “Don’t treat a wine tour like happy hour at a bar,” reminds Tom at Peninsula Cellars. Guests in a tasting room are there to learn about wine, and are offered tastes (sometimes free) to determine which wines they might like best. If you’re more interested in hanging out at a bar and chatting with your girlfriends, you’ve got the wrong kind of bar. Just be respectful of the staff’s time, and the product that they’re freely sharing so that you’ll discover something you’d like to buy.
A wine tour is a great way to explore Traverse City and the countryside in Northern Michigan. With these handy tips you’ll be sure to make the most of the adventure. For more fabulous day trips in northern Michigan this fall check out our post: 22 Reasons for a Fall M-22 Roadtrip.
Brandy Wheeler, creator of the Traverse Traveler app and owner of Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas, purchased 13 iPads with the proceeds from the first-annual Traverse Traveler Scavenger Hunt for Autism. The iPads have been donated to Traverse City Area Public Schools for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Last April, eighty-four teams took to the streets of downtown Traverse City for the inaugural Scavenger Hunt for Autism. Teams used the Traverse Traveler app and a QR code reader to discover downtown businesses, check-in and unlock a clue for an activity at each location. Volunteers stationed at every venue assisted with the on-site challenge, and handed out prize tickets. Participants encountered puzzles and games that challenged their brains, their sense of direction, and teamwork.
The event was a fundraiser for the iPads for Autism program at Traverse City Area Public Schools, a pilot program started in 2011 which provided iPads for 9 students at TCAPS with Autism Spectrum Disorder. To grow this program and meet the needs of their 120 students with autism, Traverse Traveler joined TCAPS Partner in Education program.
The Scavenger Hunt drew participation from a diverse crowd of 337 participants including families, educators, children with autism and disabled adults as well as community members from as far as Petoskey.
The fundraiser generated donations from event sponsors, team registrations and private donors and raised over $14,700 for the iPads for Autism Program. More than $9000 was donated directly to TCAPS through the Partner in Education program. Over the summer TCAPS added 6 iPads and purchased app packages designed to meet the specific needs of students with Autism. The iPads will help grow a lending library to expedite student assessment, trial different applications and assign devices more quickly.
As part of the licensing agreement with retailers schools are required to purchase Apple products directly from Apple. But event founder Brandy Wheeler wanted to show support for the local businesses. “This event wouldn’t be possible without the support of our business community. I’m thrilled that we can purchase our iPads locally from CityMac and donate them to TCAPS to grow the iPads for Autism program.”
The positive response from event participants and venues, combined with the commitment from title sponsor Lucky Jack’s, has event organizers already planning for next year. For more information on the Traverse Traveler Scavenger Hunt for Autism and to find out how you can volunteer visit TraverseTraveler.com/Autism or find them on Facebook.
Photo: Brandy Wheeler from Traverse Traveler and Jame McCall, Special Education Director at Traverse City Area Public Schools gathered today at CityMac for the iPad purchase. They were joined by members of the Scavenger Hunt for Autism committee including Jamie Roster, Kathy DiMercurio, Kate Daggett and Nick Nerbonne, and event sponsors Mike Mohrhardt of Lucky Jacks, Josh Russell of Jimmy Johns and Greg Nickerson from CityMac.
Pick up the August Issue of Lakeland Boating Magazine, on newsstands now, and you’ll find a feature article on Traverse City, Michigan written by Brandy Wheeler, owner of Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas and the Traverse Traveler app.
Traverse City is the featured Port of Call in this month’s issue of a popular Great Lakes boating magazine. Each month Lakeland Boating, sister publication to Great Lakes Angler, includes an article highlighting destinations that Great Lakes boaters are interested in discovering.
The 7-page article introduces readers to many aspects of the Traverse City area, offering a glimpse into the history of the ciy between the bays, our agricultural heritage from orchards to vines, and the development of a vibrant downtown community. There are feature sidebars on wine tasting, The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, where to stay and information about the Traverse Traveler app. The article is sprinkled with dozens of specific recommendations for businesses in the area that visitors will enjoy.
“It was a fun challenge to write a feature-length article on the region I love so much,” said Brandy Wheeler. Brandy’s photographs accompany the narritive, as well as images from the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, Mark Lindsey, Kathy Partin and local businesses and organizations represented in the story. “I hope the article will encourage Great Lakes boaters and their families to plan a trip to Traverse.”
The August issue of Lakeland Boating is available on newsstands now. In Traverse City, look for a copy at Horizon Books. Visit the Lakeland Boating website to read full archived issues in PDF format online. The July issue includes a feature article on Manistee and information about the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The August issue will be available online on August 1st.
Brandy Wheeler is the owner of Mealtickets & Unusual Ideas®, a 10-year old marketing service for Traverse City area visitors. She launched the Traverse Traveler app, a free handy mobile guide featuring information on restaurants, wineries, lodging, attractions, events and more. She lives in Lake Ann, Michigan with her husband and two children. Brandy’s writing has been featured in Grand Traverse Woman Magazine, as a guest blogger on Pure Michigan, and most recently as a contributing author to Media Magnetism: How to Attract the Favorable Publicity You Want and Deserve. Email Brandy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @TraverseTravelr
April 2nd is World Autism Awarenss Day. It’s a day to recognize, celebrate and show your support for the Autism community. I’ve been celebrating for the last 5 years by sharing information about autism on my personal blog, through social media, and by donating to Autism Speaks. This year I decided it was time to do something bigger. I have a mission to support the autism community in Traverse City, Michigan by putting iPads in the hands of every TCAPS student with Autism.
Today, I hope to Light it up Blue by sharing my story, and my goals.
— Brandy Wheeler
This article was first published by the wonderful ladies at Grand Traverse Woman. You can pick up their March/April 2012 print edition on newstands now.
Autism is a puzzle. We can’t figure out what causes it. There is no “cure” because it’s not a disease. And it’s affecting an alarming number of children and adults. New studies report 1 in 88 children will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. So what can we do about it?
I ask myself that question everyday. I am a mom. My 9-year-old son has Autism. That diagnosis filled me with heart-breaking fears of what his life, and ours, was going to be like now that the A-bomb had been dropped upon us.
He was three when we had him evaluated by the school district and the results were clear. Autism. He didn’t make a lot of eye contact, was nowhere near ready to potty train, and had never once said, “I love you, mom.” But he was smart. So smart. He memorized jingles on TV and would sing them as we drove past the business. From the backseat I’d hear, “Ba-da, ba-ba-ba, I’m lovin’ it!” as we cruised by McDonalds, followed by, “Higher standards, lower prices,” when Meijer came into view. He taught himself to read at the age of three, but still doesn’t know how to tie his shoes. In kindergarten he made a map of the United States out of Play-Doh from memory and could answer Presidential trivia faster than a Jeopardy champion. But if I buy the wrong kind of macaroni and cheese, he won’t eat it. The slightest changes in classroom routine could bring him to tears. Simply understanding that when a friend says, “hello” in the hallway you should look up and say hello in response, doesn’t even occur to him.
So how do we, as parents, and community members, reach out and try to connect with these children that are silently struggling to navigate in this world that is so foreign to them? We play to their strengths, and accept their weaknesses.
One of my goals, from the time my son was diagnosed, has been to increase autism awareness. It’s challenging, because Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means there are extreme variations in behaviors and capabilities of children with this diagnosis. Some are unable to communicate verbally, some have sensitivities to light and sound and touch. Some children have learning disabilities and may be prone to violence, while others appear typical and perform off-the-charts on achievement. But there are similarities as well. The characteristic that draws my attention is their fascination with technology.
Children with Autism are drawn to technology like flies to a picnic. Television, video games, computers, smartphones and now the iPad offer endless fascination and attraction. While we’ve all heard the warnings about the dangers of too much screen time, I don’t think we’ve given enough credit to the benefits for children with certain disabilities. Here technology can be a conduit through which we can communicate like never before. And it’s working.
Schools across the Country are beginning to use iPads as a tool for communication and learning for their students with Autism. Each iPad is assigned to a specific student, and loaded with apps that cater to their individual needs. There are communication apps like Proloque2go which help non-verbal students form sentences on the screen with a drag-and-drop motion then turn text-to-speech. There are visual schedules which allow teachers to replace bulky velcro picture boards that took up the full backside of a classroom door and give the independence and privacy back to the students. There are apps for building social skills by practicing conversations, offer iRewards, help students make decisions, and even handle frustration. My new favorite, Sosh, lets you type negative thoughts on the screen then throw them in the shredder and watch as they’re chopped to bits. Technology isn’t just cool for these kids, it’s life-changing. But it does come with a price tag.
In 2011 Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) decided to create a pilot program to test the use of iPads for students with Autism. They purchased 9 iPads, loaded with autism apps and distributed them throughout the district to those with the greatest needs. The trouble is, there are approximately 120 students in TCAPS with Autism. So how do we meet that need when budgets are shrinking and the want list is a mile long? That’s the call I hope to answer.
I launched a new development of my own last year, the Traverse Traveler iPhone app. It’s a handy mobile guide to the Traverse Area featuring restaurants, wineries, lodging, shopping, events and more. As with most new technology it takes some time and some tinkering to realize all that it can do. When I heard about the TCAPS iPads for Autism program I realized we had an opportunity to create a unique fundraising event: social media for social good. It’s technology supporting technology, for a cause that’s close to my heart.
The Traverse Traveler Scavenger Hunt for Autism will take place from 1pm -3pm on Saturday April 14, 2012 in downtown Traverse City, Michigan. In this one-day event participants will use the Traverse Traveler smartphone app (FREE to download) to conduct a scavenger hunt throughout downtown Traverse City. Teams of up to 5 people will navigate from place to place, use the app to check-in at each location, complete tasks and collect raffle tickets along the way. Instructions for each activity and clues to the next location are supplied by the app.
I wanted to create a unique fundraising event that’s fun for families and raises money based on participation. Our presenting sponsor, Lucky Jack’s bought into our fundraising concept to Pay-Per-Check-in, whereby increasing the monies raised with every person, and every stop. All proceeds from the event will be donated to TCAPS to purchase iPads and apps for students with Autism.
Here’s how you can help:
Register your team for only $20 and participate in the event
Donate a used iPad2 to TCAPS. Drop off your used iPads at CityMac and TCAPS will mail you a receipt for your tax deductible donation.
Make a cash Donation to the iPads for Autism program. $500 will purchase an iPad. $150 will purchase a suite of apps. Every dollar helps!
Traverse Traveler to Host Scavenger Hunt to Benefit TCAPS Students with Autism
The first annual Traverse Traveler Scavenger Hunt for Autism will take place in Traverse City, Michigan on Saturday, April 14, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. In this one-day event participants will use the Traverse Traveler smartphone app to conduct a scavenger hunt throughout downtown Traverse City. Utilizing an innovative approach to fundraising, the event will raise money to purchase iPads for Traverse City Area Public Schools students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Here’s How The Scavenger Hunt Works:
- Participants register as teams for one of two event tracks: the Family Track featuring kid-friendly activities and less walking, and the Challenge Track geared toward adults and teens. All courses are family-friendly, walkable and fun.
- Teams of up to 5 people will navigate from business to business, use the Traverse Traveler smartphone app (available for FREE in the iPhone App Store) to ‘check in’ at each location, complete tasks and collect prize tickets along the way.
- Instructions for each activity and clues to the next location are supplied by the app.
- At the end of the scavenger hunt, all teams will cross the finish line at the City Opera House to celebrate their accomplishments, enjoy refreshments and win prizes.
- Corporate and individual donors commit to ‘Pledge Per Check-in,’ whereby increasing the fundraising efforts with every person, and every stop.
Brandy Wheeler, creator of the Traverse Traveler app, a handy mobile guide to the Traverse City region, designed this unique event to increase community awareness about Autism, a disorder that affects 1 in 110 children — including her 9-year-old son.
There are approximately 120 students in TCAPS with Autism. It’s a neurological disorder that can impair an individual’s ability to communicate and develop social skills. The severity of the disorder and the symptoms vary dramatically. Some children are unable to develop speech, some experience sensory issues, and others, diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, are highly intelligent but lack basic social skills most people take for granted.
In early 2011 Wheeler discovered a pilot program launched by TCAPS to place iPads with 9 students within the district who receive special education services for autism. Each device was loaded with a set of apps chosen to meet the specific needs of that child. Autism apps range from touch-screen visual schedules, to social skills practice, to full-scale communication aids.
Jame McCall, Executive Director of Special Education & Early Childhood Programs for TCAPS explains, “Our goal with using the iPads— or any other assistive technology— is to remove the barriers to education. To be able to put a device in the hands of a child that’s socially acceptable, and is something they are able to use and maneuver easily, that aids in communication, will help them in their learning.”
Traverse Traveler approached TCAPS last fall about designing a fundraiser to help grow the iPads for Autism program at TCAPS. “I was thrilled that Brandy contacted me and told me about her plans to do a scavenger hunt and her thoughts about raising money for TCAPS students to put more iPads in the hands of our children that needed them. TCAPS is proud to be a partner with the Traverse Traveler.”
Brandy Wheeler reached out to business owners, community members, educators and parents to bring this event to life. “Children with autism are magnetically drawn to technology,” she said, ” With this event we can combine the power of mobile and social media to create positive social change. It’s technology for technology.”
All proceeds from the event will be donated to purchase iPads and apps for TCAPS students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Aspergers Syndrome. In addition to monies raised by the event, Traverse Traveler will donate $10 for every new business listing on the app between now and April 30, 2012.
Here’s how you can help!
The Traverse Traveler Scavenger Hunt for Autism is currently seeking event sponsors and Downtown Traverse City businesses who would like to participate in this event. For more information and to register a team, visit the Traverse Traveler website at: http://TraverseTraveler.com/Autism. TCAPS is also accepting tax-deductible cash donations for the iPads for Autism program at http://www.tcaps.net/autism.
I’m thrilled to announce the Traverse Traveler app will be included in a new creative idea book featuring 99 examples of successful marketing strategies.
Visual Marketing: 99 Proven Ways for Small Businesses to Marketing with Images and Design, by Anita Campbell & David Langton — To be released on September 29th
Here’s an excerpt from their publisher, Wiley:
“This book is an idea starter. Expect this book to stimulate the senses, inspire and spark ideas,” says Langton. “The 99 handpicked examples in this book are from organizations that have successfully used visual elements in their marketing—with solid results.”
Visual Marketing displays creative marketing campaigns that brought attention to small businesses in unique, compelling, and unexpected ways.
“We explored every aspect of marketing – from traditional to high tech, “adds Campbell. “We show examples of how print ads and marketing materials are evolving, how social networking sites and the world of mobile apps have redefined how people communicate and how quickly new marketing technology, such as QR codes, come along as technology progresses.”
I’m anxiously awaiting a copy to see the creative ideas from other designers, artists, entrepreneurs and small businesses featured in this collection. I hope you’ll pay a visit to your local bookstore and pick up a copy. It is also available on Amazon and in eBook format for those who love their tablets!