Note to Self: Just Do It

This past weekend got me thinking about goals.  And this bible verse couldn’t be more spot on as it relates to moving your goals to action.  Happy Monday and here’s to moving one step at a time!  #justdoit



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.

cirque-du-soleil-ann-ueno-5  cirque-du-soleil-ann-ueno-6

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 🙂


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


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 🙂

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.

36 Hours in New York City (plus a fun giveaway!)

Last week, my husband and I had the privilege of jet-setting out East to one of our favorite cities in the world, New York City.  We went for a conference called Movement Day and took some time to play as well.  The thrill of NYC is unlike any other city (breaking news, ha?).  The food, the noise, the people, the diversity, the challenge.  We. Love. It.  From Chelsea Market (fave) and Times Square, to Soho for shopping and the West Village for a bite.  From The High Line  (only in NYC would they have a public park built on a railroad track) to NYU.  From meals with friends to a pair of sore feet along the way, we maximized our time and took in all we could.  I’ve documented our trip with “21 squares” via my iPhone, Instagram and a few shots taken with my Canon Digital SLR.  Hopefully this sparks some visual urban excitement for you!

Oh and just to add a little fun, let’s play a game.  Which three pictures do you think are my favorite?  Which are your favorites?  Reply with your comments and I’ll share the answer in the next couple of days!! One lucky winner will receive an Orla Kiely scarf I picked up while shopping in Soho!



Confession: I Gossip.

Okay everyone, there it is.  I said it.  I’ve confessed it to the world wide web.  I am guilty of gossiping.  If you hate me and want to stop reading, fine.  But, I’m going to first call your bluff…you gossip, too.  Oh come on, you know you do.  Every single person does.  Some may even say it’s natural.  It’s inherent in our culture.  It’s harmless.  Those things may be true, but, does that make it okay?  Is it possible to change?  Even with super duper small baby steps?  I think so.

Every Monday evening, I have the distinct privilege of hosting eight women at my house for bible study.  Yes, bible study.  Now you just can’t stop reading, can you?!  Last week marked the first of a three-week series on Gossip.  The intention is fairly simple.  We come together and ask ourselves the following questions:  What is gossip?  What does God and the bible say about it? Why do we do it and who is it with?  How can make progress and be transformed to live better lives?

Well, as you can imagine, something that seemingly is “simple” on the outside doesn’t always net out to be that way on the inside…with a group of women…who like to talk…and having the mystery and awesomeness of God involved.  Nope, not simple.  But, this past Monday night we went deep to tackle these questions and I found our findings to be blog-worthy.  I also figured, hey, if all of us crazy, messed up women want to try to live a better life, perhaps some of my crazy, messed up (and extremely loyal and amazing) readers can, too 🙂  Here are some of the points I jotted down:

First, we confirmed that it’s not actually “gossip” by definition that was our challenge (we realized starting rumors about people was so circa 1995), but rather, it’s the engaging in and the leading of any type of negative or inappropriate conversation.  For the purposes of this blog I am still going to use the word “gossip” because I don’t feel like typing “negative or inappropriate conversation” each time I want to reference.

Why do we “gossip”?  Oh, let me count the ways!
-For validation.  Wanting someone else to agree with your insanity, your offensiveness, your “mean girl” spirit.
-To share information first.  To feel like you have the power and insight more than others.
-It feels good.  Ugh, hate this answer, but sadly, it’s true.  Here’s the caveat to that.  It only feels good for a second/in the moment.
-And here’s another one I hate.  We gossip to make ourselves feel better.  To feel better than someone else.  Ugh.
-We don’t know.  No, not a typo.  Sometimes it’s either hard to pinpoint why we are doing it.  Hmmmm…

Almost everyone agreed that when they gossip, they know it.  Their insides are telling them.  Their gut is screaming “stop it already!”  And often, we don’t stop.

Almost everyone also agreed that asking someone to stop or telling them you don’t think it’s right is almost impossible to do.   Why?  For fear of what it may do to the relationship, fear of the person thinking they are being judged (even if it is coming from a pure place), fear of it just being incredibly awkward.  So what happens?  We let it go and in most cases we engage.  And then we walk away and feel like shit.  Yep, girls in a bible study said the word shit.

What I loved about our discussion is that together we came up with a few filters and solutions, so to speak, that could help us going forward:

  1. Ask yourself this question:  Would I say this in front of the person?  Would I be okay if my boss heard me talking like this?  My spouse?  God?
  2. Am I a part of the problem?  Am I a part of the solution?  If the answer is no to both of these, zip your lip!
  3. If what you are saying isn’t true, necessary or kind, challenge yourself to, um, not say it!  Easier said than done.
  4. If you are getting the nudge (ahem, the Holy Spirit) to shut up, honor the nudge and shut it!
  5. Have a friend or sister or brother or spouse hold you accountable to your big mouth.  Oh sorry, did I type that?
  6. Pray. Yep, that’s typically the best solution.  The power of prayer is a-mazing.

We don’t have it all figured out (and there were/are many unanswered questions).  And we won’t be changed over night.  But we can make baby steps.  If we first confess that we gossip.  Dig deeper to understand more.  And commit to trying to change.

Do you gossip (obviously that’s a trick question per sentence six above)?  Do you like it?  Do you sometimes feel like shit after?  Have any good pointers?  Write me a note!

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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