Friday Round Up: Behind the Scenes at Cirque du Soleil

cirque-du-soleil-ann-ueno-4I am back from Montreal and what was one of the most memorable work conferences I have yet to experience in my 9 1/2 years with Starwood.  While there were many things that made it memorable, there is one big one that stands out: the day and night at Cirque du Soleil.  Our loyalty program, Starwood Preferred Guest, is a partner of Cirque (brilliant global brand + brilliant global brand = incredible collaboration) and therefore, our amazing leaders organized a creative team building day and evening reception at the headquarters of Cirque du Soleil.

Having seen my first Cirque show, Dralion, with  my cousin Erin about 10 years ago, I was instantly wow’d, blown away and absolutely inspired by the performance.  The shows explode with creativity and risk-taking.  They are fun, scary and hilarious.   Colorful, energetic and emotional.  I fell in love.  And since my first show, I have seen dozens more.  Mystere, O, Ovo, Michael Jackson.  The Beatles Love (in fact, I saw it for the third time in Las Vegas just a couple of months ago).  The list goes on.  The shows are truly all remarkable and memorable experiences.

All this said, when I found out we were getting an experience at their headquarters in Montreal I was beyond excited.  And this experience was truly one that money can’t buy.  I heard that Cirque rarely does this and only with preferred partners.

We first received a great presentation from Mario D’Amico, Cirque’s CMO.  He was great and one of the many key messages I took from him was the culture they create at Cirque around failing.  In order to succeed and in order to take risks, there has to be failure.  Failure is fully accepted.  Love it.

We were given a complete tour of the building and were able to see their production rooms, how the fabrics were made, how they measure their performers for their costumes and facial gear.  I learned that MAC cosmetics is the official makeup line of Cirque and that the makeup artists actually teach the performers to put on their own makeup.  They show them 2-3 times how to do it and then the performers are on their own!

And then for about 3 hours, our teams got to actually train as if they were part of a Cirque show.  Everything from the trapeze to learning how to be a clown, we were immersed in the Cirque culture.  One of my favorite things I did was learn the Michael Jackson Thriller dance from the choreographer of the Michael Jackson shows.  Yeah, she was an incredible dancer!  No, I wasn’t.

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And the rest of the evening was a mini Cirque show with food, wine and sharing stories from our day together.

038cirque-du-soleil-ann-ueno-10It was truly one of the coolest experiences I have been a part of and I am SO grateful to work for a company that invests in their employees in this way.  Thank you, Starwood 🙂

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Hitting the Send Button When You SO KNOW You Shouldn’t.

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You so know you have done it. You are on your email and you respond to or send an email that everything in your system is saying no and the red devil drinking a gin and tonic on your shoulder is rooting you on.  And it feels good.  The email that may hurt someone.  The email that is unprofessional.  The email that gushes out your feelings to the guy who just doesn’t love you anymore.  The email to the guy cursing his mom, sister, best friend and dog.  The email to your ex-best friend about how you can’t even believe you ever were friends and that she looked chunky in that dress last weekend.  Yes, it’s the email that when you hit the send button, everything in you is saying don’t send.  But.  You. Do.  Send.  Ouch.

Well, I am here to confess that this happened to me recently at work.  And it sucked.

It was a Friday afternoon after a long, stressful week and I was emotional.  And, I have been trying to work on not sending “emotional emails.” Trying.  And this imperfect leader of eleven sent the email, despite the smart part of my brain saying not to send.  My system was saying “stop it you jack, don’t send the email.”  The drunk devil was high-fiving me saying “yes, send it!” and I decided to team up with him.

The content of the email wasn’t inherently wrong or bad.  It was the tone that was wrong and bad. The emotion.  And the receiver, my colleague, felt it. And the response I received went something like, “I do understand where you are coming from but I’d like to talk vs. do this over email.”

Eh.  I received that response at around 6 p.m. on Friday and knew this person was right, mature and professional.  I logged off and grabbed a glass of wine.

I thought about my behavior the whole weekend.  I prayed about it.  But, my pride was getting in the way.  My heart knew the right thing to do, but my head and lack of good leadership skills – at the moment – didn’t.  And then I shared my emotional, “don’t hit send” email with a mentor of mine.  This person’s response was “you shouldn’t have sent an email like that and you should talk to [him/her] next week. This is your fault and you shouldn’t send emotional emails.”  Frick.  I knew my mentor was right.  And so I flung that obnoxious drunk devil off my shoulder and prayed more and tried to get my head – and heart – straight.  I knew I owed this person an apology.

Monday morning came and I asked this person to come into my office.  I apologized for my email with no excuses or “I’m sorry but…” language.  It was simple. I was wrong.  I also commended this person’s professionalism and said thank you for teaching me the better way to do it.  (Talk like mature adults vs. email like an emotional jack.)

What is the lesson here?  Email is great for so many reasons.  It’s not great to replace physical meetings.  Or to send your emotions into cyber space like a coward.  Or to break up with your boyfriend.  Or tell your friend she’s fat.  It’s a platform to communicate in a professional way.  It’s not a platform to say things you wouldn’t otherwise say in person.  And for me, as I continue to work on this, the big lesson is don’t send the email.  Sleep on it for at least a day.  And every single time I have done it that way, I have never sent the email.

The other lesson here is about grace.  We have all been on the other side of the jack-of-a-person who sends an emotional, unprofessional email.  And we have two choices on how to respond: like a jack, fighting fire with fire or with grace, knowing it’s the better way and we are all humans and we all make mistakes.

Have you ever done this?  What was the outcome?  A good lesson learned?  Haven’t said sorry yet?  Well, you still can 🙂

Ann Written Notes Gets a Makeover!

ann-written-notes-ann-uenoAfter some time, research and anecdotal feedback from my readers and opinionated savvy and smart friends, I am excited to share the first phase of re-branding of Ann Written Notes!  As a marketer, I know the importance of branding and I could offer all kinds of advice and expertise on how to market products, hotels, etc.  When it came to my own brand and blog, it wasn’t as easy.  When it’s your own, inevitably you spend more time, you over think and have more emotional connection to the project.  But eventually, I had to think like the business person I am and just make a move already! I’m not saving lives here.  Come on, Ann, just go.  Take the first step.  It will be okay. Some things I knew I wanted and tackled:

  1. Just. something. new.  I created my blog over a year and a half of ago and it hadn’t been updated or changed at all.  It was time.  Just like you know when it’s time to dump change your boyfriend, change your job or change your home,  I knew it was time for a change to Ann Written Notes.
  2. Fresh and clean color scheme: I went with white, black and a soft green accent color.  That’s it, for now.
  3. New navigation on the top of the page: I hated this about my old blog and so this was critical to change.  I am only scratching the surface here, but you can see now my categories are aligned well and easy to navigate at the top of the page.
  4. An advanced theme in WordPress: I ended up using the Elemin Theme which offers a lot more than my previous theme (a lot of those details are tech and back-end related which will put you to sleep so I won’t go into detail there). But, a few things that drew me to this theme were the symmetrical foundation, clean template and flexibility with colors and fonts.
  5. Engaging an agency: I have narrowed a list down of agencies that I will be engaging this year to take this even further.  More on that to come.
  6. Updated copy:  It was important to ensure my readers and non-readers alike knew what kind of blog this was.  That’s now more concise and up front and I am still in the midst of figuring out the metadata (which is essentially the behind the scenes copy that is critical in the search engine space).  Credit to Jess at With Intention for her advice on this!
  7. More about Ann Ueno on homepage: As this is a lifestyle blog, it’s important to have a face to the blog (literally and figuratively).  It adds credibility, personal touch and an insight into what to expect of the blog.

Those are just some of the changes so far.  More importantly, I am excited about what’s to come.  More partnerships (and sneak peak – we have a great philanthropy partner lined up for 2013!), more visuals, more content in the design space and a reveal of an Etsy Shop!

Thanks for reading, thanks for your feedback and I’m excited about sharing my love of interior design. Creative projects. My photography. Tips on travel.  And a few personal stories along the way.

What I Learned in Two Thousand Twelve.

what-i-learned-in-2012Over the last week or so, I have been reflecting on this past year and preparing for the new year. It’s the time of year to do it, right?  And truth be told, I don’t do it enough so I am maximizing the time away from work, the time of calmness now that the holidays are over and the time alone.  And in true Ann spirit, I had to compile a numbered list (I frickin’ love lists) to highlight some things I learned in two thousand twelve. Enjoy…and stay tuned for my final blog post of two thousand twelve!

  1. Having God at the center of my marriage is the key to Rick and my happiness, joy and contentment together as a couple.
  2. To be an effective leader, I have to be humble, be honest, be willing to be vulnerabe and open to feedback (and then actually listening to and doing something with the feedback).  This is not always easy, but, I am grateful to be around people that do challenge me and help me grow.
  3. Vacationing, whether near or far, plane or car (enter Dr. Seuss), is critical to my well-being.  Time to sleep, time to read, time alone, time with Rick, time to learn about a new culture, time to capture moments on my camera, time to try new foods.  Travel is truly part of my DNA.
  4. Setting goals for the year is key for me to continue to grow and challenge myself personally.  I found that setting 3-4 (versus 20 which is where I think I started the year) worked for me and allowed me to achieve the goals.
  5. The work-hard, play-hard way of life rocks.  I committed this year (for the most part) to not working at night and on weekends and I am convinced it made me more productive during the day and made me more content in my personal life.
  6. Actions are around 100 times more important and more credible than words.  Words shmerds.  Don’t mistake this for me succeeding at this or doing this perfectly.  Trust me, I’m good with words and often times it’s a lot easier to say something than it is to do something.  But, I know that my actions are what #count.
  7. Suffering produces amazing outcomes.  Having gone through some tough things this year, namely a really rough miscarriage, the pain kills but the product of the pain is hope, gratefulness, new perspective and endurance.  This bible verse has stood out to me this year:  Romans 5:3-5 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
  8. I have a bit of an obsession with reading lifestyle and decorating blogs. But, in my defense, it’s where I brainstorm ideas, try to be creative, learn and enjoy some down time.
  9. When I trust God, He shows up bigger and better than I could ever imagine.
  10. The book, One Thousand Gifts, was the most impactful book I read this year; Julie and Julia follows that one as a distant second.
  11. Being thankful and positive is a better way to live than the alternative.  Easy?  No.  Ideal?  Yes.  #glasshalffull

What were some things you learned in two thousand twelve.

12 Months of {pretty awesome} Blogging

ann-uenoI’m delayed at O’Hare (no, that’s not a picture of me at terminal 3 in a strapless dress…it’s a picture of me making a ridiculous “I’m sneaky slash suspicious slash no clue” face at dinner a couple weeks ago) so I thought I would take a look back at some of my posts by month and share with you, my lucky beloved readers, the highlights. It’s been a really fun year of blogging with many milestones…can’t believe this year is almost over.  Insane in the membrane! (Say it with me…insane in the brain!) Did I just write that?  Hilarious.  Okay, anyways…I hit 20,000 views, was featured in The Chicago Life Blog, wrote nearly 60 posts, grew my following and had a frickin’ blast along the way. Enjoy the highlights and I look forward to giving you Ann Written Notes 2.0 (or two dot oh as they say in corporate America) in 2013!

JanuaryLoving on West Elm (obviously…is there a better way to start the year?!)

February – How to organize men’s ties (As a side for all you stat lovers, this post, to date, is my most popular post and gets the most traffic each day…I guess it’s helping some men out there.)

MarchHow to save a marriage…sort of.  Um, er…oh yeah, I know!  Take a weekend trip to Paris!!

April – Inspired by my trip, here’s a look at our French-inspired entryway.

May – As my Starwood office was under renovation, working from home was in order. Which meant doing a minor office renovation so that I could stay inspired while working!

June – I gave you gift ideas, a look at our guestroom renovation and more…too hard to choose just one here!  Check out my June blog posts.

July – Well, July was the month I found out I was pregnant…so, um, was a bit pre-occupied.  No blogs for this month.

August – I shared with you our story about losing baby Ueno.  Ugh, hurts my heart still but grateful to be able to share this with you in hopes of helping other women out there.

September – When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Or, organize your closet.  Check out how to organize a closet.

October – I featured my first “Note to Self” which is a series of my graphic design artwork inspired by words that make me go “hmm.”

November – November was my busiest month blogging with 12 posts.  The feature on our anniversary vacation to Cabo San Lucas was one of my personal favorites.

December – Wow, a lot of awesome blogging things happened in December.  But, I have to say that one of my biggest accomplishments this year was managing my Starwood Chicago office space before and after renovation.

Which post was your favorite?  Do tell!

New England Hidden Gem: Manchester, Vermont

There are many perks to working in the hotel industry.  Being around really hospitable and intelligent people  (killer combo…they are fun, nice AND smart).  Never running out of shampoo or conditioner due to the vast amount of bottles collected from past hotel stays.  The normalcy of hugging colleagues vs. shaking hands (come on, let’s hug it out!).  Meeting so many different people from all over the world.  Having the ability to help friends and family experience travel when they may not have otherwise been able to.  And, my personal favorite and the most obvious is the travel itself.  Whether for work or for pleasure, my job in the hotel business has not only allowed me to see many different cities and countries, but it has also allowed me to stay at some very unique and amazing hotels.  And most recently, I had the pleasure of having my annual team summit at The Equinox Resort & Spa in Manchester Village, Vermont. Why Vermont, you ask?  Well, about half of my team is in Boston and half are in Chicago.  Vermont is halfway between the two cities.  Okay, no it isn’t.  Not even close.  In fact, I found this allegedly useful website call MeetWays where you can find halfway points and technically, the halfway point between Chicago and Boston is Southern Tier Expy in Randolph, NY.  And, I digress.

Let’s get back on track, shall we? Vermont boasts the only Luxury Collection (one of Starwood’s highest end luxury brands) hotel in my portfolio of 90 hotels.  It’s their least busy season, otherwise known as mud season, which means the price was right.  It’s a three-hour drive from Boston and a two-hour flight from Chicago into Albany, NY so ease of travel was on our side.  And come on, it’s an incredible resort that sits at the bottom of Mount Equinox in a town of 600 in Bennington County (ahem, Bennington IS my maiden name after all).  Need I say more?

Having first settled in 1761, Manchester Village is an incredibly quaint town with so much to offer.  Having everything from hiking to fly-fishing, outlet shopping to eating incredibly delicious local food, it truly has something for everyone.  It’s a great destination for a girls getaway, a family reunion, a team-building retreat or even a solo weekend trip.  And given I love to take advantage of the perks of my job, I decided to head to The Equinox a few days before my work meeting and get some R&R in with Rick.  I have captured the highlights of the week below.

My advice to you:  Put this hotel and traveling to Vermont on your bucket list and start planning!  I promise you will not regret it.

The below are all views within the first 12 hours of arriving.  Mount Equinox, gorgeous flowers and the hotel’s famous apple cider donuts baked daily, served warm.  The trees and pond during my hike (the hiking path is in the backyard of the hotel, roughly 100-150 feet from the main resort).  And one of my favorite things at The Equinox Hotel was the fire pit in the courtyard of the hotel.  Enjoying a glass of vino while Rick enjoys a cigar, the heat of the fire is on your face but the chill of early Spring weather is in the air.  AHHH!!  It doesn’t get much better than that!

  

  

  

Balance.  This is what happens when you go to Vermont for the weekend.

The food.  Oh, the food.  It’s fresh, delicious, organic and local.  There truly isn’t a bad restaurant in the Manchester area.  Why?  Well, as the locals told us, “the bad ones don’t make it…”  We went to Marsh Tavern, Mio Bistrot, Ponce Bistrot, Northshire Bookstore Cafe to name a few.  We would recommend all of them!

And again, the hotel is perfect for a team offsite retreat.  During the day we were forging through workshops and education sessions.  And we always left time to connect together as a team. We kicked off our week with a wine tasting at Honora Winery and Tasting Room, located next door to the hotel.  We tried eight wines that were paired with food along the way.  Delish!

 

There are two very unique activities that we had the pleasure of being treated to during our week together.  The first was the Land Rover Driving School.  Talk about team-building and a great ‘do you trust your colleague?’ exercise.  There are driving courses in the midst of acres and acres of land where we took three vehicles out and testing our driving skills.  You learn about the vehicles (they don’t call them cars) and you quickly realize Land Rovers and Range Rovers are not for the city. It was scary, fun, and exciting all at the same time.  A must-do if you are in Manchester.  Besides, there are only five of these schools in the world so when else will you have this opportunity?

The second activity we did was falconry at The British School of Falconry.  Very different than driving school, but equally as fun and unique!  You definitely gain a new appreciation for the intelligence of birds 🙂  And, yes, I felt like Katniss in The Hunger Games.

  

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