June 2015 Archives

So Excellent

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Wow.

I just returned from a 5-day trip to Palm Beach, Florida, compliments of my company, and man am I a lucky dude. I've seen my company do a lot of great things, but this trip was over-the-top. I'm so honored, grateful, and flattered to have been nominated for our "Inspiring Excellence" award, and I'm even more floored that I was one of the lucky folks to win the award. If anyone from TDS is reading this, I have to say it again: thank you so very much for everything. I'm truly happy here and enjoy nearly everything about my job, career path, coworkers, and opportunities. Thank you!

Ok... enough gushing. On to the good stuff.

Every year, one of our sister companies (I work for the corporate HQ, and as such, work with our sister companies depending upon the project I'm assigned to) accepts nominations from leadership for the Inspiring Excellence award. There are around 120-150 nominees (from a pool of around 2500), and around 40-50 winners selected.

My data center migration project team was nominated, and we were lucky enough to win. It was quite a shocker, to say the least. We received packages with the trip details and man, they know how to put-on a good trip. No detail was left untouched. Nothing was left for wanting or improvement. It was truly a 5-star, Class-A trip in every regard. 100% of the trip was taken care of; all we had to do was pack a bag and be ready to go on Wednesday morning.

Carrie, Lynette, and the TDS executive leadership team really did think of everything, and did a great job of keeping us prepared and informed, as evidenced by this information packet with itineraries and details (this was the revised version as supplied at the hotel, but you get the idea):

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We were allowed to take a guest with us, so I asked my girlfriend if she'd like to attend with me. She was able to get away from work (she's an in-patient nurse at the UW hospital), so it was cool that she joined and enjoyed the trip as well.

We flew from Madison to Detroit, and then from Detroit to West Palm Beach. The flights were uneventful, and we arrived at our destination at around 1:00pm on Wednesday. There was a really nice tour bus waiting for us, and it promptly whisked us over to the Four Seasons Palm Beach hotel.

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TDS had reserved certain areas of the hotel for us; there was a main meeting area called "the living room," which was this huge, ornate, incredibly decorated meeting area with several large fireplaces, bars, tons of couches and seating, and a private patio. It was here that we got checked-in to the hotel (no waiting at the front desk), grabbed our name tags and informational packets/agendas, and had some cocktails and appetizers. We also had a chance to mingle with others from TDS as they arrived from the airport.

After a few beverages, we were informed that our room was ready, so we went up to check it out.

Wow (I'm going to say that a lot here). The room was insanely great. Massive bathroom with a soaking tub and a 4-person (huge) shower, incredible marble, a separate water closet (toilet area), super comfy bed, nice couch and chairs, and a great view of the ocean.

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It was difficult to get decent pictures of the room, due to the lighting from outside. My best example is this view as seen from the balcony, looking in. Hopefully you get a little idea of what it was like.

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We took a few minutes to unpack and relax on our patio before heading down to the first organized event of the trip. There were only a handful of group activities to attend; otherwise, we were left to enjoy the environment on our own, which was really nice.

We all met down at one of the cabana areas, where there were more drinks and socializing. Everything was complimentary and included at no charge, thanks to TDS. There were multiple bars near the pool; we stopped by this one for a couple of beverages.

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After a bit, we were escorted to the beach, where there were even more drinks waiting, and a bunch of buckets, brushes, and garden tools. Our CEO, Dave, welcomed us, thanked us, congratulated us, and then told us about the sand sculpture contest we'd all be participating in.

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We had been organized into 12 random groups. We had to select a team captain (I was chosen by my group), and together, had to come-up with an inventive sand sculpture that represented TDS, Florida, and team excellence. Jenny (my girlfriend) noticed that there were sea turtle nests near us (they were roped off to protect them), so our group decided to sculpt a turtle. Little did we know that nearly every other group was doing the same thing... so, after an hour of sculpting, we landed on this final design - a mother turtle, talking on a telephone, surrounded by smaller turtles (to represent our sister companies). I thought it was great; unfortunately, we didn't win. :-(

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Here were a few other examples of sculptures. The winning sculpture was of a mermaid. It was nice, but it got wiped-out by the tide before I could get a good photo.

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The theme for our entire trip was "Life's a Beach" - and it was impressive that the team from above was able to carve that into the sand.

We had a few minutes to kill before dinner, so we took a quick stroll down the beach. It was absolutely gorgeous.

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After the stroll, we made our way up to the pool area, where a great meal was waiting for us. We were assigned to a table, where we met and conversed with another new group of people. As we chatted, we enjoyed an appetizer of fresh seafood. I had an oyster, a mussel, some ceviche and some shrimp. All of it was amazingly fresh and wonderful.

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From there, we made our way up to various serving stations, all of which were situated around the pool. The choices were limitless - paella, a salad station, roasted turkey, fresh grilled snapper, prime rib, roasted vegetables... you name it, you could've had it. I took a little bit of most everything, and wound-up with two plates. :-)

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Dessert options were equally great. Some fresh strawberry short cakes, and some mason jars that were filled with things like brownies and fresh raspberries with ice cream, or a deconstructed s'mores-type thingy. Here's a quick shot of the dessert table, to give you an idea of what it was like.

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With our bellies stuffed, we made our way over to another area near the pool where a musical duo had set-up and were beginning to play some tunes for our group. They were really, really good, but it was so dark by that time, I couldn't get a decent photo. The group was called "Chemradery" - if you have a chance to check them out, I believe they're on Pandora and iTunes. They're worth a listen.

We called it a night at around 10:00pm, and made our way to the room, where another surprise was waiting. Not only did we get this great, all-expenses paid trip, we also had gifts every night. The first night included this "beach care kit" - bag, towels, sunscreen, after-sun lotion, lip balm, snacks, towel clips, and a small first aid kit. Too amazing.

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Between the drinks, food, heavenly bed, and tomb-quiet nature of a 5-star resort room, I slept like an absolute rock. I also overslept a bit... and then decided to hit Ocean Blvd for a morning run. I hit the road around 8:30am, and it was already 80-degrees and sunny. Thankfully the roads were flat (and scenic), so my run went by quickly.

Upon returning, I realized that I had made a major mistake with respect to timing and scheduling... we had signed-up to take a group tour of the Everglades via fan boat. I thought the tour left at 10:15am, when in fact, it left at 9:15am. I watched the bus leave as I returned from my run. Whoops!

Oh well. We made the most of it, and did a little sight-seeing of our own. It started with breakfast at a place called Mulligan's, which was just down the road from the hotel, and was situated *on* the ocean. It was quite nice, and the breakfast was stellar. Egg whites and fresh fruit never tasted better.

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We decided to take advantage of the ocean's proximity, and walked along a little path on the beach. They had these helpful signs posted at various beaches along the way. Take a look at the temperatures!!

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While walking and exploring, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to bring sunglasses. Whoops (number 2). The Four Seasons offered a complimentary car service to nearly anywhere in Palm Beach, so we got chauffeured over to a cool little shopping/eating area in the city, by way of a brand new Mercedes Benz SUV. Not too shabby, especially for free!

I bought a pair of sunglasses (and a cheesy tourist hat), and then we made our way to The Key Lime House for a quick beverage at their bar. The bar area was excellent, and once again, sat right on the ocean, so how could it be anything but great?

World, here's Jenny and me. It's not the best photo, but no photo is good whenever I'm in it... ;-)

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Surprise, again - I shaved before the trip. The beard was great, and everyone liked it, but the novelty was wearing thin. I realize that as an east-side resident in Madison, a beard is required for entry into most watering holes, but I'll see what I can do... it feels pretty good to be clean-shorn, but man, I forgot how much I hate shaving.

As we were leaving Key Lime, Jenny spied a rather unique bar stool. I'm a bit upset that I didn't sit at this seat... would've seemed appropriate.

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We called the Four Seasons for a return ride, and they promptly whisked us back to the luxury of our resort. We spent the rest of the afternoon poolside, enjoying complimentary beverages, snacks, fresh fruit, and service from the attendants. I could get used to this lifestyle rather quickly. They were always at our beck-and-call, and nothing was too much to ask for.

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Thursday evening was an "on your own" evening, and Jenny had noticed that there was an outdoor music event at a park called "Clematis By Night." It sounded interesting, so we asked if the hotel car service could drive us there. They happily took us to Clematis street, despite being 30+ minutes from our hotel. I'm telling you - the service there was *unreal*. Everyone was so professional, helpful, courteous, and great. If I had the means, I'd say nowhere else.

We arrived and discovered an awesome park, situated between the ocean and Clematis Street. Clematis is sort of like State Street here in Madison - lots of shops, bars, restaurants, and places to hang out. The park was absolutely beautiful, and the music stage was really well done.

Here's a photo of us enjoying a beverage ($3 for a large beer - what a bargain!!!) while listening to a really good rock band.

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As we listened to the band, we noticed an older couple that seemed to really be enjoying themselves. The husband was dancing in a seductive manner for his wife, and she was loving every minute of it. I snuck a quick picture, because it was so cute (yet a bit troubling)... if you look closely near the stage, you can see him dancing for her, along with her reaction.

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We eventually grew hungry, so we made our way up Clematis Street and discovered a little tequila and taco bar called "Rocco's Tacos." We snagged seats at the bar and enjoyed a trio of tacos (fish, pastor, and steak for me; shrimp, chicken, and steak for Jenny). We also sampled a few tequilas, including an interesting one called "Romance" by Milagro. It combined both anejo and reposado tequilas, and came in a really cool bottle. You can sort of see it in the background, behind my tacos.

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Rocco's was great. The food was good, the drinks were solid, the vibe was cool, and the bartenders were great. Even the bathrooms were cool - they were showing the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

We decided to return to the music festival for a bit, and did so just in time to participate in this little dance "thing" - I can't describe it, other than they had these pressure sensitive pads in the ground that would change color when you danced on them. It was super cool, and sort of interesting that they'd have these permanently mounted in the park ground.

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I have to say that Palm Beach is a cool area. The people are friendly, the weather is insanely gorgeous, the views are incredible, and there was always something fun going on. People seemed to really enjoy themselves down there, and it's easy to see why. As the night was growing long, we called for a car and were taken back to the hotel. I snapped a quick photo of the Clematis area as we left.

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When we arrived back to the hotel, we found yet another gift in the room. This time it was a coffee-table book about life and walking on the beach. It was signed (with notes) from our executive leadership, and was extremely thoughtful and nice.

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On Friday morning, I got up and went for a run, while Jenny used the fitness center (which was incredibly nice). It was a little cooler on Friday morning (high 70s) and a touch overcast, so the run was super great. I also saw a ton of incredible cars while running... Lamborghini Aventador ($500k), several Bentleys ($300k), several Aston Martins ($250k), a McLaren 650S ($300k), and a ton of really nice Audis and Mercedes. Ugh. So, when I returned to the hotel and saw this gorgeous Aston Martin DB9 convertible, I just had to snap a quick photo.

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Friday night was our awards ceremony, so we once again had the day to ourselves. Jenny and I decided to hang out in the pool area, where TDS had several cabanas set-up with various foods, snacks, and free drinks. We sat by the pool for a while, and then figured it would be wise to seek some shade in one of the cabanas. Looks like Jenny got her fair share of sun... ;-)

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The cabanas were cool, both literally and figuratively... they all had ceiling fans built-in, as seen in this photo of one of the snack cabanas (it had pizzas in it, if I recall).

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After hanging around near the pool, we decided to head down the beach to a place called Benny's and scrounge up some lunch. Benny's is located on this massive pier that extends into the ocean. The pier has to be about half a mile long.

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The food at Benny's was excellent. I had some "blackened" fish tacos and a PBR. Jenny had a salad with avocado, chicken, and this crazy "scorpion hot sauce" which was incredibly hot.

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Full again, we walked back to the hotel. I liked how most of the beaches had nice paved walkways, so that if you didn't feel like shuffling through the sand, you could walk along a sidewalk, yet still see the ocean.

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Upon returning to the hotel, I was pleased to find that they had shined my dress shoes for me. The attention to detail there was like nothing else. Not only did they shine the shoes, they wrapped them in Four Seasons paper, so as not to scuff them. Are you kidding me?

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We got cleaned-up and changed, and then headed down to the living room area for a group photo, followed by making our way to one of the ballrooms. We were seated at a table with yet another unique group of folks; TDS did a great job of making sure you didn't end-up sitting by the same group of people at each event.

Here was the menu for the evening's meal:

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The first course consisted of a wonderful Caesar salad. I'm not normally a fan of dressing, but that dressing was just divine. Light, fresh, and perfectly applied. Man, was it good.

The main course consisted of a tenderloin steak, a diver scallop, a lobster medallion, heirloom cauliflower, and a potato croquet. The picture doesn't do it justice - it was just insanely good.

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And for dessert, there was a deconstructed chocolate/creme brulee/tart-like thing. Even after re-reading the description a few times, I can't tell you exactly what it was, other than delicious.

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Even the center pieces were insane. They had to be 3-feet tall, and filled with fresh flowers. Everything about that night was so perfect - the wine was wonderful, the food was great, the atmosphere was unreal. I've said it a lot, but I'll say it again... TDS and The Four Seasons know how to do an event and make it truly special.

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With dinner under our belts, it was time to have the awards ceremony. There were nine distinct categories for the awards, and anywhere from 1 - 4 people/groups in each category. The program identified who won in each of the categories, but you had to listen to the presentation (as done by the VP/president of our HR group) to hear why you (or others) actually won.

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My team was called-up and we received lapel pins, a certificate, and a cool glass sculpture/trophy. We were each thanked directly and personally by our CEO and other members of our executive leadership team. It was really quite humbling and flattering.

After the awards were done, I grabbed my team and had someone snap a photo of us. Here's the crew that I owe a huge round of thanks to - if it weren't for their expertise, dedication, and hard work, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy this trip. Thank you, guys!!!

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I also asked one of my team members to snap a photo of Jenny and me. It's not often that I end-up in a suit, so I wanted to get a photo to prove that I actually have one, and that I can clean-up fairly nicely when necessary. Sorry if I'm showing off, but I'm super proud to have been there, and even more proud that I was able to share the experience with Jenny. We've been dating since late last summer, and I'm grateful to have her as a great friend and companion.

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The ceremony ended with a live band, and I have to say, they were really good. I even managed to dance a bit (thanks probably to all of the free drinks). They played a great mix of rock, new music, country, pop, and classics. Everything from Abba to Katie Perry to Kid Rock.

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We called it a night at around 11:00pm, and when we returned to the room, there was yet another gift. This time it was a hand-made glass sculpture of a tidal wave. I didn't snap a photo, but it was really cool.

(Oh, and rumor has it that a bunch of folks got on stage later that night to sing along with the band, and that the party continued well past 2:00am... I hear there was some drinking in the billiards room at 3:00am... I'm sad we missed the antics, but glad I got some sleep that night!)

On Saturday morning, we woke-up and took a walk on the beach. We had heard there were more sea turtles making nests, and hoped to see that, but missed out. Instead, we had to settle for some of these mediocre views... :-D

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TDS had breakfast available for us each day, but Saturday was the first day we were actually able to take advantage of it. The breakfast was great, and they even had Neuske's bacon!! Neuske's is from Wittenburg, Wisconsin of all places, and is critically acclaimed. The New York Times has even written articles about how amazing it is.

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I arranged for us to get some spa services later on Saturday morning. The Four Seasons has this incredible spa area, and is known for their massages, wraps, and whatnot. Jenny had a "Palm Beach Detox Wrap" and I got a standard massage, along with some foot reflexology massage.

If you've never been to a nice spa, you're missing out. Holy cats, this place was great. The spa was located within the hotel, on one of the lower levels, so it was super calming and peaceful. Here's the main entrance:

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Once inside, there's a locker room, where you change into a robe and some sandals. The robes were so luxurious - super heavy and super comfy. I had to snap a quick photo of it...

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After changing, you head down this hallway, where there are a number of shower rooms on either side, along with relaxation rooms, a whirlpool area, a steam room, and eventually a little waiting room area. Here are a bunch of photos from those places.

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(you can't really tell from the dark photo, but that shower was *amazing* - it had dual rain heads above, and body sprayers on the sides (3 heads each). Holy cats was it a cool shower.)

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After stepping out of the steam room, I was told to use these iced and scented towels on my face. I'm doing this at my house... nothing like an icy cold towel that smells divine to cool your freshly steamed pores.

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The little waiting room area was filled with snacks and this awesome black tea. After spending time in our respective areas (men's spa/women's spa), it was nice to meet-up here before going in for our individual services.

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After a few hours of relaxation and pampering, we were off to our final group event - shopping at an outdoor promenade called "City Place." Think of it as a big outdoor mall, filled with mostly national chain retailers. TDS once again hired a really nice touring bus and shuffled us out to the venue. I tried to take two good selfies; both attempts were thwarted... once by this death stare from someone on the bus:

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And once by someone's (who shall remain nameless) finger...

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After being dropped off at City Place, we quickly discovered that the notion of visiting stores like Best Buy, Macy's, Panera, and whatnot, wasn't exactly enticing. So, we ventured around a bit, and found that City Place is only about 3 blocks from Clematis Street. Excellent!

So we had a second chance to visit some shops and restaurants on Clematis. After a bit, we stopped by a place for a drink and a few bites. There was a cool looking place called "The Alchemist" so we grabbed a seat outside and enjoyed a beer and some salad. The food and service were awful - truly awful - but the venue was good.

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As we made our way back to the bus pick-up area, Jenny took a minute to play in this little water park...

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The bus took us back to the hotel, and we called it a night, but not before opening the final gift from the trip...

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Inside the gift bag was a hand-written thank you note from the CEO, and another glass sculpture-like thing (a globe, filled with sand and sea shells).

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Sunday morning arrived far too soon. It meant the end of the trip, so we packed-up, had one last cup of coffee from our room's vexing coffee maker... (the coffee was great, but the machine was impossible to figure out)

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Snapped a few last photos of the ocean...

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And headed down to the living room area for a light breakfast and to wait for our shuttle bus to the airport.

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The return flight took us home by way of Detroit; we were in Madison at around 6:30pm on Sunday. Here's a final shot of Palm Beach, as seen from our plane upon departure.

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So, there you have it. A truly incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip, thanks to the great work of my team and the extreme generosity of my employer. Thank you everyone!

And huge thanks to Amy for watching Flea while I was away - she's always in good hands, and I never have to worry about anything while I'm gone. Muchos gracias!

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If you ever have the chance to visit Palm Beach and to stay at the Four Seasons, do it. You won't regret the decision!

So, until next time...

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