Skye Turns 7

You would think spending your birthday with princesses at Walt Disney World would be hard to beat… Honestly, that didn’t meet our expectations in the first place last year, but it’s certain idyllic.

This year, I wanted to again avoid having to host some sort of party where unknown children and their parents awkwardly hang out and we leave with a legion of gifts that my kid just doesn’t even need.  It’s not cool.  I’m done with those.

This year, I leveraged our membership at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and organized what would later be referred to as “the best birthday ever.” Straight from the source…

So, Skye wants to be a marine biologist.  She’s fascinated by these two local rescued dolphins that happen to have had a movie made about them. Granted, it’s a great story. That aquarium does good stuff. There’s no SeaWorld ethical consideration going on there for sure.

For the day, Skye spent some time (45 minutes) with a trainer and actually got to meet her dolphin friend Hope.  She saw Winter, but it was Hope that came out for the “interaction.” There was some hesitation when Skye realized that she had to handle dead fish, but she sucked it up and shined.

After that, we all loaded up on a CMA boat and surfed the bay looking for wild dolphins. We froze our butts off. But, eagle-eye Greta did spot a mom/baby and male dolphin little gathering of sorts. So, we followed them around for a few. Birthday girl even got to drive the boat, like a boss.

We wrapped up the day with dinner at Columbia over on Clearwater Beach. I had taken the kids there the first time we met Winter and Hope from afar, so it seemed symbolic somehow.

Here’s to 7… Working on 8.

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Stepniowski Year in Review 2015

Epic.

2015 was epic.

Highlights include:

January

Skye celebrated her 6th birthday in true princess style.  The whole family spent the day at Disney where Skye was turned into a princess for about fifteen minutes until the hair bands hurt and were immediately removed. We had dinner with the Disney characters and wrapped up the celebration with fireworks over Cinderella’s castle.

Also in January, we considered getting a pool… Got some quotes and ultimately determined it wasn’t worth it. Fortunately, Luke’s mom and Garry did decide to go ahead with a pool, so it was a win-win.

February

Luke turned 38… We frolicked around the Renaissance Festival, an annual tradition.

March

For Spring Break, we went camping at Ft. Desoto. Beach camping FTW.

Luke and Skye attended a father-daughter dance at the elementary school. Skye continues to do well in kindergarten and loves school.

Bright House announced an agreement with Charter Communications.

April

I hurt my wrist somehow. Months would pass as I went through the process of trying to figure out what happened. Ultimately, it would get better without the surgery that was recommended. No more yoga. Turns out my bones are uneven and can’t take the pressure. I’m getting old.

May

I attended the World Quality Conference in Nashville, TN as a speaker this time. My topic related quality tools to personal branding. It was truly exhilarating.

June

Aidan graduated elementary school and went to Poland with Greta. He blogged about his adventure.

I went to China for work and spent my birthday in Hong Kong. Not a bad way to welcome 39.

July

The kids enjoyed a few camps at MOSI. Luke joined me in New York while attending TexWorld.  We saw Kinky Boots on Broadway, one of my favorite ways to pass the time.

August

We were excited to see my cousin Randy and his beautiful family! We hung out at the beach and checked out the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Skye can’t resist an opportunity to see Winter and Hope.

Aidan cashed in his birthday present from Garry and went flying.

We cruised the Caribbean and enjoyed several days of R&R as we said farewell to summer.

Aidan started middle school and continues to kick butt. He’s in the Maker Club and is looking forward to playing viola in orchestra. He did take a few lessons that we paid for, but ultimately that didn’t work out.

I’m promoted to Regional Director of North America at Pro QC, a position I waited 16 years for.

September

Luke attended VM World again in San Francisco.

We celebrated our 14th anniversary by ditching the kids off with my parents and driving up through the mountains to have some fun on The Dragon with Luke’s new car. It would prove to be one of our favorite adventures to date.

I scored my first keynote opportunity as a speaker at the ASQ Annual Service Conference. Awesome.

October:

Halloween was fun. Skye dressed up as Mal from The Descendent’s and Aidan was a bloody surgeon.  Zombiefest was lame, but I argue any event with funnel cake does have some value.

November:

We were grateful to spend time with family during Thanksgiving. Greta and Garry hosted, and it was a great opportunity to eat, drink and be merry.

December:

Luke generally gets some time off during the holidays, and I usually make an extra effort to catch up with people I wasn’t able to see often throughout the year. I can’t think of a better way to end the year!

Oh, yeah… I can. We got a kitty! Kai Magnus is our little bengal buddy that has filled our hearts with lot of love. Yay for kitties.

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Smoky Mountains Epic 2015 Weekend

Call us what you will, but Luke and I decided to ditch the kids with the grandparents for a few days and take a drive to the Smoky Mountains, our happy place. This trip contributed to what has turned out to be the most epic travel year yet, but it also earned a spot at the top among the most memorable.

Something as simple as driving doesn’t necessarily appeal to most people. Cars are often purchased as a result of a need for transportation to and from work, with little consideration to the experience of it all.  Contrary to this practical perspective, Luke and I both tend to appreciate cars that have personality. We disregard things like gas mileage in lieu of the way it sounds when you’re driving with the windows down.  We disregard added conveniences like automatic transmissions in lieu of that feeling you get when you’re going through gears manually. We’re those people you find outside all the time washing their cars and staring at them, showing them love. We know our neighbors probably think we’re crazy… whatever.

Now, I don’t know much about cars from a technical standpoint. I’m not going to claim to. But, I do like driving.  So, I was quickly convinced to schedule a getaway where the real objective was simply an opportunity to drive on a road in the mountains. But, it’s not just any road.  It’s a special road…   

The Dragon – Deals Gap

“You can encounter one of the most technical & challenging roads in the country. Of course, people come to the attraction of 318 curves in 11 miles, but they soon discover all the best kept secrets of the many great roads leading you here. Like the land that time forgot, you will not find any driveways, gas stations, subdivisions, or mini malls. In place of all the hustle & bustle of big city life, you will find many scenic & beautiful places to stop & take time to soak in all the natural beauty that our area has to offer.”

You know you’re getting close when hear the motorcycles and the rumbling car exhausts. You know you’re there when you see them piling into the hangouts at the entrance. From there, you can embark on an experience. It’s an experience you’re almost surprised they don’t charge you for.

Luke and I have been here before on a prior epic adventure… In fact, it’s that very adventure many years ago that encouraged us to return.  Through the years, we’ve slain The Dragon with a Subaru WRX, Acura TL, Honda Odyssey (that’s right), and now the Porsche 911 Carrera.

When we arrived this time, Luke mentioned something about people getting nauseous.  I thought that was absurd until day two when I find myself puking outside Tapoco Lodge. I’m classy like that. Oh, we did eat at Tapoco Lodge. Listening to the rustling water outside and enjoying some good food was a treat. You know, the hot dogs at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort weren’t too shabby either.  All the excitement really creates an appetite!

I’m not sure there was a moment when I looked over and didn’t catch Luke smiling.  Considering our layovers in Atlanta and Savannah, we certainly did circle the Southeast in style.  We reluctantly left the mountains as the leaves were starting to peek through with rich tones of red. We left the crisp mountain air and the majestic landscapes. We may have left, but we won’t forget… won’t forget that weekend where we escaped the everyday, if only for a few moments. Of course, we vow to return.

Our pics are here. While I’ll admit I’m sad we weren’t included in the Weekly Highlights, we’re thankful to Killboy.com and others for hanging out and capturing the essence.

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Aidan’s Summer Highlights – 2015

Aidan’s summary of summer 2015:

This summer was the most eventful summer I’ve had in a while, maybe in my whole life! I went to Poland on the other side of the world, I went flying in Garry’s plane around the Tampa Bay area, I had my birthday, and to top it all off, I’m going to middle school and we went on a Disney Cruise.

Of all of these things. I want to focus on the cruise and the plane ride. Though I am super pumped about middle school, the cruise was the best! We rode on the Disney Dream through the Caribbean, to the Bahamas for a day and last to the Disney island where we got to snorkel, swim, eat BBQ and enjoy the sun. We ate at a variety of restaurants on board, but I liked the Animator’s Palette the most. They had Disney animations all over the place and the walls moved to show ocean scenery on huge screens. There was even a giant talking turtle from Nemo that went around the room. The Royal Palace and Enchanted Garden were the other two restaurants that we ate at. There was a huge deck on the top with unlimited ice cream and food with a big screen where you could watch movies and swim. My age group had an area call The Edge where we did all sorts of fun stuff like Wii challenges and dance parties! They had a theatre where we watched live shows! We saw Villains and Charles Peachock who was a finalist juggler on America’s Got Talent!

The plane ride was also fun. We flew over Busch Gardens, Clearwater, the Sunshine Skyway, and even our house! Even after the trip, my dad wanted to go! It was really hot in the plane, but it was still SO MUCH FUN! Garry even built the plane himself! Very cool.

I went to a lot of beaches this summer and even went with my family from North Carolina to swim and play in the sand. I think we wore our bathing suits as much as we wore our normal clothes this summer!

 This was a very eventful summer, and I enjoyed myself a lot. But, now I have to conquer the 6th grade… This will be interesting.

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Mom edits: Aidan’s “highlights” only include the last few weeks of summer.  A better recap would incorporate the amazing MOSI camps where he learned game design, played Minecraft and spent a week camping and swimming in Florida’s springs. He went to HOST camps with Skye for a few weeks where he competed in a county chess tournament and held his own.  Of course, there was the Poland adventure. An epic summer, indeed.

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Poland Adventure!

Aidan ventured to Poland with his grandmother this summer.  His account of the two week adventure is described below:

I had just gotten out of school and was looking forward to going to Poznan, Poland for two weeks. I was excited to meet my family on the other side of the world and see towering castles and beautiful museums. My parents have always said how beautiful it is there!

My grandmother took me there to stay with her family, Arrick, Renata and Agata. They also had a very jumpy dog named Arnie who loved to play with me. Every night, we would stay up and play cards, Beriki, badminton, and darts.

We also went to visit both of my great grandparents on the Stepniowski side and also my great grandma Kowach in her apartment three times! It was fun to see photos of my dad when he was a kid.

We went to Malbork, my favorite part of the trip, which is the biggest Gothic castle of its time. We saw towers and huge rooms for dining and, of course, the toilet tower. We got to walk along battlements, see ruins,  and learn about Nicholas Copernicus who was the person who proved that we orbit around the sun and not the other way around.  We ate yummy food, saw markets, and just have a great time overall. 🙂

I was heartbroken when my two weeks was up and it was time to jump on more planes to get back to my home. Poland was like nothing I had ever seen before, and I would definitely go back if I could! My grandma said she might take me when she goes next year… awesome!

Pics are here. 

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Stepniowski Worldwide!

We split up for a few weeks this summer, with Aidan on a Poland adventure with his grandmother and myself headed to China and Hong Kong.

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Aidan was excited to explore castles and spend time with our family there. His grandmother said he was a perfect gentleman… So, there’s that.

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This was my second time visiting Pro QC’s offices in China.  I posted something regarding the factory auditing experience here. I really had fun visiting with our team there!

Along the way, I also visited all of this stuff:

Shanghai, China

Hotel: Ramada Plaza Gateway – Not bad at all. There’s also a Starbucks right outside. Right. Outside.

Viggio – After 19 hours of travel, I just wanted to sit for a few and drink a beer… or two.  It was about that time I realized that I couldn’t access gmail there this time. Of course, I already planned on not being able to access Facebook. But, it was harsh reality.

Ningbo, China

Hotel: Crowne Plaza City Center – No complaints here.

Moon Lake Park – One of those memories that stay with you, I spread out in the grass along the water and listened to a guy play a bamboo flute. I also put my tai chi skills to the test and joined in a group session… Turns out I don’t remember as much as I thought.

Shopping: Chenhuang-Temple Shopping Center (outdoors) & Wanda  Center (indoors) – It’s shopping, but it’s what I came up with when it rained. I scored all the traditional “Chinese” souvenirs at Chenhuang Temple.

Ningbo (Yinzhou) Museum – The building looks “cold” at first, but the architecture and history are quite interesting.  Also, there are birds inside of the little holes, so the sound is really something. Museums are free there too.

Lao Wai Tan – Bars and places to eat that all meet on a picturesque waterfront. It reminded me of Ybor City.

Shenzhen, China

Hotel: Fuzon – Don’t do it, man. There’s better.

Our office is located in SeaWorld, an area with a myriad of international dining options and a big old boat, French Liner MS Ancerville in fact, right there in the plaza.. water light show and all. I woke up each morning and had coffee at Starbucks before walking over to our office in Seaview Garden.  Our office overlooks the boat and is surrounded by lush plumerias… It’s nice.  Before I hit the ferry to Hong Kong, I celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival for lunch at the office.

Hong Kong

Temple Street Night Market – The adventure was getting there.

Tian Tan (Big Buddha) & Po Lin Monastery – I conquered a fear of gondolas and climbed up 268 steps to appreciate a few zen moments and some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen.

Sik Sik Yuen Temple – What I didn’t know is that a cyclone warning had been issued, so the weather wasn’t perfect. But, I saw people using the fortune sticks just like the ones my grandmother got me at a yard sale years ago.  I tied a red ribbon to Yue Lao, the matchmaker god in charge of marriages, not knowing what the heck I was doing. And, I had some thoughtful moments in the wishing garden. I dig that stuff, rain or shine.

MTR – I felt like this was a highlight in itself. Figuring out how to get change, the tickets, etc. It was fun.

Overall… Awesome trip. Having an opportunity to explore new places is a highlight of my job. I will not complain.

My pics are here.

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Our SMART Family… Will a Plant Increase Resolution Success?

So, as I politelySMART_Plant nudged Luke and the kids to take part in “my” annual New Year’s Resolution tradition, I started considering why they were always so hesitant in the first place. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to pass up an opportunity for a fresh start and reason to make positive changes.  Sure, I know it’s just the 1st day of January, but it’s symbolic.  It’s symbolic!

It didn’t take long for the obvious to occur to me.  I started thinking about our resolutions and realized they’re the same each year.  Despite using the SMART template for success, I’m still not working out three days a week, my son still has issues with focus during math class and my daughter is still biting her nails. What happened? We made sure our goals were specific, measurable, attainable (achievable), relevant (realistic) and timely. We just failed on follow-through.  We failed before we even got started.

To resolve this issue, I decided we needed something visual to represent what we wanted to accomplish. Maybe the problem with our resolution success is that we file away our intentions and go about the chaos of daily life and occasionally think about following up with things tomorrow.  Today is never convenient.

Thankfully, I live in Florida.  So, a trip to Home Depot wasn’t out of the question when I thought about linking the success of a potted plant with our goals. From what I can tell, plants are a great metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish.  For example, my six-year-old knows that we need to water our plant each day for a while until it gets established.  Just like our resolutions, they require more effort to get started.

As time passes, the plant (and the habits we hope to change) will simply flourish as long as we are aware of them, appreciate them and give them the attention they need to thrive.

So, we planted this plant.  And, we put it next to the window by the kitchen table.  We gather there for meals, so it’s an ideal location for light and a prompt for daily discussion and support.  Is it SMART? I like to think so, but time will tell.

*This is a reprint of a post on ijenn.me that I wanted to put on the family site too.

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Season’s Greetings & Welcome 2015 (2014 Updates)

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The countdown to 2015 is on, and it’s around this time each year that I try to slow down a bit and reflect throughout the holiday season. I’m grateful for many things, but mostly family and friends.

We were really happy to see many of our family and friends at a Lettuce Lake Park picnic.  Despite the yellow jacket attack during the geocache, it was wonderful to have an opportunity to spend time with everyone. Potlucks are among my favorite things!

So, what have we been up to?

As I rewind my thoughts, I recall the FLL robotics competition Aidan competed in last January.  The “LEGO Masterz” didn’t win, but I would say Aidan and I both learned a thing or two from the experience. And, while we’re not doing the FLL thing anymore, Aidan is still active in chess and run club. In fact, today he is interviewing for a job as CEO of Bright House for the 5th grade Junior Achievement Biztown trip. He’s adorable, even if he is somewhat grounded until his math grades improve.

Skye started kindergarten this year! Wow. 2014 will be the only year where school scheduling is aligned just perfectly. But, who would have imagined how much Skye would enjoy school.  She enjoys it so much, in fact, that she comes home and pretends to play like she’s the teacher and her stuffed “friends” are the students.  My mom said I used to do this too. 🙂

Oh, we did some solid home improvement projects this year.  We painted, had the outside cleaned, got some new furniture and generally spruced the place up.  I even excelled at the handy work by fixing our rotted front door… Go me!

Next year, we’re hoping to score a pool. The tropical oasis we explore in our minds will finally come to fruition. All those swim classes will finally pay off too! Mele Kalikimaka… “It’s the place to be.”

What else happened in 2014?

  • I went back to work full-time with Pro QC. During a meeting in Rochester, I saw snow for the first time. Check!
  • I taught a few webinars and still teach classes at HCC & ICCE. This is another one of my favorite things, no doubt.
  • We are still a Bright House family. Hello Friend!
  • We went camping at Ft. Desoto… I think twice.  It turns out S’mores are amazing. Amazing.
  • We had adventures in more than one park, the Renaissance Festival, the beach, Dali Museum and more. Yeah, we love adventure.
  • We went to NYC. Aidan posted a summary of the trip for me. 🙂
  • Aidan and Luke still head out to the trails for biking whenever they can. They’re quite the team! I tried to workout… Got a trainer for 3 months and made it 2 before I decided to bail. It’s hard!
  • Skye learned how to ride a bike. The highlight of her year was meeting Winter and Hope, the dolphins at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

As another year comes to a close, we look forward to the adventures ahead!

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