Road Trip 2013 – Smoky Mountains

The last week of summer is among us, and we’ve just returned from our semi-annual trek to the Smoky Mountains.  

Instead of making a pit-stop in Atlanta again, we decided to bust it straight through to Wears Valley, TN where we rented a cabin. We like Wears Valley because it avoids all of the touristy stuff indicative of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.  Also, it has incredibly convenient access to the National Park.  We usually spend most of our time there.  Just driving through, hearing the sounds and smelling the fresh mountain air is enough for a mental reboot.

The kids were immediately excited when we arrived and they saw the cabin.  Aidan was especially excited because of the game room and theater in the basement, although the area didn’t get as much use as I thought.

Throughout the week, we had an opportunity to picnic, grill-out, hike and swim.  We even ventured over to Forbidden Caverns for a cheesy, but very cool (both literally and aesthetically) tour underground.

Luke also discovered a roller coaster on the side of the mountain and decided it was a must-do activity.  It turns out the Alpine Coaster had only been open three days… Needless to say, Aidan was persuaded by a monetary contribution and Skye did it a few days later for a t-shirt and grape soda.  They all highly recommend it and did it four times overall.

We were especially surprised by Skye’s ability to withstand hiking.  She made it 2.6 miles to see Laurel Falls, hiked some of the Appalachian Trail in the rain and even climbed to the highest peak at Clingman’s Dome.  I barely made that one!

One of our favorite things to do in the park is the auto tour through Cades Cove.  This eleven mile loop is our opportunity for wildlife spotting, usually allocating one point per mammal spotted to the first person to call it.  No one ever keeps track of the points and Skye is always trying to subjectively revise the values, but it’s still a hoot. This time, we spotted several deer and a bear asleep in the tree.  We actually saw a momma bear and three cubs on the hike to Laurel Falls too.  I won’t even include the gigantic spider that almost ate me alive in the river.

The kids both enjoyed swimming, so much so that we did that twice.  The water was too cold for Luke and me, but it didn’t stop Aidan and Skye.

We posted the photos here.  Good times… Always.

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Stepniowski Family Values

I heard a HBR podcast not long ago that included an interview with the author of The Secrets of Happy Families.  I haven’t read this book, but the interview revealed some suggestions for managing families in today’s chaotic environment.  He suggests managing families using many of the tools we see used in successful organizations.

More specifically, Bruce Feiler suggested families develop a value proposition (or mission statement) that includes input from everyone.  Reiterating the values through actions is key.

As we traveled from Florida to Tennessee this year for our annual summer vacation, we discussed this idea and came up with four guiding values we all agree encompass what we’re about.

1) Respect yourself and others.

2) Practice self-control.

3) Love and be loved.

4) Be inquisitive.

We’ll see how it goes, but the kids already know the four values, similar to a Starbucks barista that must be able to recite the mission statement on a whim.  It’s a start…

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Aidan levels up on LEGOs

Aidan hasn’t had too much screen time this summer, so he’s spent most of his time reading and creating things with LEGOs. He did also enjoy a week at HCC for computer camp and a robotics themed week at MOSI.  And, he still enjoys hanging out with his friends at Bright Horizons as well.  Busy summer… Good stuff…

A few weeks ago, we bought him the The LEGO Ideas Book for his 9th birthday.  He’s really impressed us with his ability to focus on the various design options and then modify them for his own creations.  He’s spent hours dedicated to matching color schemes and creating symmetry.  And, he’s having a blast!

My favorite thing that he created recently is the “summer house”…

AS_LEGO_House

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Skye Sings Fifty Nifty…

Skye learns the United States at summer camp with a cute little song… Very Skye!

“That’s it!”

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When in Rome…

Luke and I recently returned from an adventure in Italy.  Planes, trains, metros and miles and miles of walking on cobblestone streets and I’m confident we hit every major site.

The first thing we considered is how confident we were that the kids wouldn’t have made it a day there.  With no English television channels, late nights and walking in the heat, it would have been a nightmare and possibly the death of either Luke or myself.  At the end of the day, the kids had fun and didn’t even care.

Overall, we had an amazing time visiting Rome, Naples and Pompeii.  I was surprised to learn Italians consume one bottle of wine per person, per day and live to 80.  They’re a relaxed bunch that seems to have pulled off an 80s comeback as well.

What we saw:

Day 1 – Took the train from the airport and walked to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.  We walked over to Trevi Fountain for dinner and enjoyed the marketplace and food options there.

Day 2 – We slept until noon, but managed to walk over to the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and stroll through the Borghese Gardens.

Day 3 – We had a group guide for the Colosseum and Roman Forum tour. It wasn’t cheap… Luke and I disagreed on the overall value.  From there, we walked to San Clemente and checked out the underground levels. I enjoyed the little market vendors whose tents line the streets with their wares.

Day 4 – Spent the day at the Vatican.  We had pre-booked tickets online or the wait would have been over an hour.  Through the museum, we were herded through like cattle as we quickly glimpsed highlights of human possibilities.  The Sistine Chapel is where you’re spit out.  You think that’s cool until you get to St. Peter’s Basilica that happens to be the most awe-inspiring thing I’ve ever seen.  We went into the grotto where many of the popes are buried.  It was amazing to see what humans are capable of accomplishing.

Day 5 – Day trip to Pompeii through Naples. The metro on the last leg is something I will never forget.  Nineteen stops… Too many people… No air.   The pizza at the place across from the archeological site was the best we had throughout the trip though!

Day 6 – Walked to the Capuchin Crypt,  which I thought was awesome (“What we are now you used to be. What we are now you will be.”), saw Bernini’s Elephant, checked out two Santa Maria Basilicas, enjoyed the Four Rivers Fountain and had gelato at Giolittli.  We both thought the gelato was over-rated.

Hotel: UNA

**While I booked this hotel thinking the convenience of location by the train station was a plus, it turns out Rome’s main terminal is considered the most dangerous in Europe, or so we heard.  We were OK with the hotel, other than the direct failure to follow the “do not disturb” instructions.

We ate at a few restaurants in the area that deserve recognition for quality food and service.

Resources used: DK Top 10 Rome & Rick Steves’ Rome 2013 

Pics from the trip…

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Aidan’s Epic How to Build a House in Minecraft Presentation

Today was Author’s Day at Pride Elementary.  I seriously could not have been more entertained or happy to see those 3rd graders presenting on various topics relating to how to do stuff.

Here’s my little man…

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Spring Break 2013

For the first time in years, Aidan and I had Spring Break the same week!  We didn’t waste any time making the most of things…

Canoeing – Hillsborough River 

On the first day of Spring Break, we all loaded into a canoe and hit the Hillsborough River. We saw alligators, all kinds of amazing birds, turtles and even a little roach was spotted in the canoe that almost resulted in a capsize.  Thanks to Canoe Escape, it was a relaxing ride downstream only on the most perfect of days.  That left the rest of the afternoon for Aidan and Luke to hit the trails at Flatwoods.

Lowry Park Zoo

We took a few of the neighborhood kids to Lowry Park Zoo and ripped though the place.  Despite a bee infestation, limited food options, poor service, and ridiculously overpriced up-sell kiddie rides, the kids had fun running around and showed some genuine interest in the animals. I don’t know why this place is rated #1 by Parents Magazine.  Personally, I think it’s gotten worse over the years.  At the price they charge, why not just go to Busch Gardens?

LEGO Fest

Aidan dumped out all of his LEGOs in celebration of the week-long break.  We kept them out until Friday.  An army was constructed, and a few videos were taken of Aidan’s “how-to” insight.  I love that he still gets into building.  His imagination always makes me smile. He reminds me so much of his dad in that way!

Grandma & Papa Day

One of both kids’ favorite things to do is hang out with my mom and dad.  They spoil them rotten, and they both know they’re the center of their world whenever they’re around.  They take full advantage, no doubt!  My mom picked up Aidan and they spent the day together.  I was able to finally catch up on several pending errands that have been on my to-do list for far too long.  Then, my mom and dad took both kids out to dinner.  Luke was at a work thing, so I had a few hours of complete peace to gather my thoughts and do productive things like click through the channels and catch up with Facebook.  Precious time, indeed.  I’d say Aidan made significant strides in Minecraft that day as well.

Ybor City – GameTime

The original plan was to use our annual passes and go to the Florida Aquarium, but Aidan and Skye convinced me that strolling historic Ybor City and  hitting GameTime was a better idea. My highlight was lunch at Tampa Bay Brewing Company and the walk down 7th.

Santos Park (Ocala) 

The boys went biking and camping Saturday and Sunday in Ocala.  Aidan got to try out his new bike, and while they may have woken up to a very chilly morning, their adventure couldn’t have sounded like more fun.  There’s footage of the trails this time thanks to Garry’s GoPro, so we’re working on a video of Aidan’s mad skillz that we’ll post separately.  They rode 23 miles each over the two days there!

It should be noted that while the boys were out biking and camping, Skye and I had a sleepover complete with a day of shopping, pizza, hot chocolate, Barbie movies and more.  We stayed up late and slept in until 9am.  Nice!  Unlike the boys, we woke up warm and cozy. :)

Hyde Park St. Patrick’s Day Festival & Chalk Walk

Skye and I closed out Spring Break in style.  We hit Hyde Park Village and enjoyed the Chalk Walk, had an amazing lunch at Wine Exchange and of course did the bounce house, face painting and arts & crafts.  It was a beautiful day!

Aidan_LEGOsSkye_StPattys_2013

More feet…

Over the past eleven years, we have visited Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida several times.  Aside from being such a magical place, it’s also the spot where Luke and I were married.  I remember it like it was moments ago.

We got some pretty cool pictures yesterday, including a few really amazing ones of the orchids there. It was a perfect day.

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