Reminder – Ann Written Notes is now House & Host!

Hey everyone!  Happy holidays!   This is just a friendly reminder that you won’t be seeing my blog posts come through Ann Written Notes anymore.  I’ve seen a few new subscribers come through and wanted to reach out and tell you all to head on over to House&Host and sign up for my new blog there!  You can also follow the House & Host Facebook page.

And again, I would be so appreciative of you sharing out House&Host with your friends and family!

Thanks again for this 2.5 year ride on Ann Written Notes.  I’m excited for 2014 and what House&Host brings!

XOXO,

Ann

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Friendly Reminder!

Hey everyone!  Happy Friday.  This is just a friendly reminder that you won’t be seeing my blog posts come through Ann Written Notes anymore.  Head on over to House&Host and sign up for my new blog there!  Three new posts went live this week so don’t miss out 🙂  You can also follow the House & Host Facebook page.

And again, I would be so appreciative of you sharing out House&Host with your friends and family!

Thanks again for this 2.5 year ride on Ann Written Notes.  I’m excited for what House&Host brings!

Love,Ann

 

Travel Stories: Highlights of Rome

It seems like Rome was months ago at this point of our travels throughout Italy.  However, it was just over a week ago that we checked into our hotel, dropped our bags, exhausted, and jetted out to not miss a thing Rome had to offer.  The juxtaposition of Rome is absolutely incredible: Rich history amidst an urban chic metropolis.  Spanish Steps just a few meters from a Chanel store.  Roman ruins standing next to 19th century homes.  Pope Francis and young Italian children.  Wine from 1990, Prosecco from 2010.  The tourists sprinkled among the locals.  Tiny smart cars, huge tour buses.  The romance and slower pace of Rome at night, the energy of Rome during the day.  It’s truly a remarkable city and one that I want to share my personal travel stories, the moments or people or things that stood out for me, for Rick, for us.

It comes as no coincidence that our first night in Rome was introduced with a rich tradition featuring a glass of champagne.  We stayed at the St. Regis and every night at 7 p.m., there is a tradition in the lobby where a server opens a bottle of crisp, delicious Perrier-Jouet Champagne with a sword.  Yes, a sword. They deem this moment the opening of the night, appropriately named open the bottle, open the night.  And a perfect way to open our vacation.  And perhaps a great concept to bring back to the Ueno home for our upcoming parties 🙂

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I would say that on almost every single trip I have taken in my life, the people I meet on my journey are what turns travel into a unique, memorable experience.  And this time, it is no different.  From our lovely tour-guide-turned-friend, Damiana (and her amazing husband, Luigi) to the man who sliced me the best piece of Prosciutto, to Ivana and her husband chatting with Rick and I about life and work and travel, I feel very blessed to have gotten to experience Rome from a local lens, making my trip that much richer.

The fresh food.  Ahhhh!  The fresh, melt-in-your-mouth food. I now 100% understand and appreciate why anyone wants to eat local, wants to eat organic.  There is an immense difference in the flavors and freshness of the foods in Italy and being a foodie, you can imagine how my stomach smiled with each bite, with each meal.  From the thin crust tomato and basil pizza to the sweet and slightly thick balsamic vinegar to the peppery arugula greens and the creamy dark chocolate gelato, eating the food in Italy is truly a bucket list experience and one that I look forward to checking off my bucket list again and again.

And speaking of food, I have to say that coming from Chicago, where there is always a healthy argument between which is better, deep dish or thin crust pizza, I was excited to not only eat the thin crust pizza in Rome, but to eat “fast food” pizza.  It’s like their coffee bars.  You stand, you order, they hand you a pizza that is folded in half like a red sauce, buttery crust and mozzarella sandwich, and you stand and eat it.  It was just what the doctor ordered and just what Rick and I did after a long morning of touring.  I may be on team thin crust now.  But don’t tell anyone from Chicago I said that.

IMG_2257While there are hundreds of sights to see in Rome there is one sight in Rome that I loved the first time I had seen it 15 years ago and I loved it even more this time: The Colosseum.  Considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture with construction starting in 70 AD, the Colosseum was an amphitheatre, a place where the Romans would go for entertainment.  I think this is one reason I love this historic concrete and stone landmark so much.  And for me, I am immensely attracted to the exterior design of it.  The symmetry.  The arches.  The textured, gray and tan and ivory stones.  The circular shape.  The way the sun makes its mark on it during the day.  The way the golden lights shine through at night. Created for entertainment.  And admired by many. Imagine having an event there now!

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Another highlight was the streets of Rome.  Given it’s a walking city with much to do, Rick and I spent hours and hours hitting the pavement, taking pictures, soaking in the culture, appreciating all that happens on the streets.  Not only are they beautiful with their slim, grayish cobblestones,  but they are global, they are colorful, they are energetic and they are filled with life, literally.  From the outdoor cafes, to the rich historic landmarks, the streets of Rome will forever be implanted on my heart.

The wine.  Enough said.

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And my second favorite drink of choice in Rome (ahem, in probably the whole word), coffee.  Or in Italy, espresso.  Or if I want to sip a bit longer, a Cafe Americano.  It was fun to experience a true Italian bar where nothing is to-go, everything is served in glassware and it’s fast, furious and delicious.  And one thing I learned is that you are supposed to let the espresso flavors sit in your mouth for at least two hours.  Don’t chew gum.  Don’t brush your teeth.  Don’t wash it down with anything else.  Savor the flavor.

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Last, but not least, one of the absolute highlights of Rome was experiencing it with the love of my life 🙂

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From Italy With Love

ann-ueno-italyAs an avid traveler, it’s hard to state a favorite place I have been. Different cities and experiences each hold special places in my heart.  Whether it’s the culture, the food, the people I am with (or without), each destination shapes me, makes me laugh, challenges me and sometimes makes me cry.  All this said, as I sit at the outdoor bar (an American bar, not an Italian bar…I learned very quickly there is a big difference) of the Grand Hotel Villa Cora sipping on a bright orange and very bitter Aperol spritzer, I know that now when someone asks me my favorite place I have traveled, in the sentences that follow, the word Italy will be present.

Yes, I am only a few days into the trip but Italy is just one of those places that grabs  your heart and fills it with love.  It fills your stomach with simple, delicious spaghetti with just a touch of tomato sauce and fresh basil.  It touches your lips with the taste of a young, ruby red Chianti.  With a crisp, white table wine.  With fresh baked, crusty bread.

Italy is filled with energy and emphasis and emotion.  Everywhere you turn, there is beauty, bright colors, rich smells, chic men and women.  There is a hustle and bustle and chaos.  And moments later there is peace and silence and a moon that engulfs the country with its white rays.

And most importantly, Italy fills you with love.  The kind of love you dream of.  The kind of love that is passionate and spicy and flavorful.  Love that comes from a simple arugula salad.  And a deep kiss you only see in the movies.  Love that comes from the clinking of four glasses of a bubbly Prosecco where strangers become friends.  Love that comes from the language, the words that roll off the tongue in a way that make your ears smile.

I am in love with Italy.  And I’m excited to share more of our adventures soon.  Until then, ciao ciao!ann-ueno-italy

Friday Round Up: Presence and Presents

ann-written-notesIt’s funny that these words come up and resonate with me so much this week.  Presence and Presents. In one case at work, we literally talked about social media engagement vs. social media presents.  Not presence.  Presents.  I made sure to clarify to the lovely listeners on the phone that I didn’t have a typo and it was, in fact, presents.  Would the event want engagement or presents (ahem, gifts)?  Engagement.

And it comes as no coincidence that last night I experienced both for my final birthdaymonth dinner celebration.  As we all know, schedules are tough and everyone is busy so for my birthday, I always try to get a date on the calendar for a girls dinner at some point within a week or two of my birthday.  And last night was the night.  Presence with friends.  Friends that matter most.

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We celebrated at one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Chicago, Shaw’s, and at the oyster bar nonetheless, at 6pm, I looked up to see five of my most favorite and closest friends around me.  They all hold different and special places in my heart.

  1. Liz is my oldest friend from home (18-19 years…oh my gosh!).  She gets the O-town (Ottawa, IL) jokes.  She makes me laugh.  She’s genuine and kind and has stuck by my side.  We have come in and out of each other’s lives, but always end up together again as if NO time has passed.  She still cracks me up.  I still love her.
  2. Sarah is my second oldest friend from college and we have both been through hell and back together.  We are both strong, energetic, travel and experience lovers and yes, at times, our personalities want to punch each other in the face.  But, that’s what keeps us together.  Our passion.  That common ground combined with what we have been through will always keep us together.  She’s sweet and loving and caring.  And honest.ann-written-notes
  3. Eileen comes next and she and I have grown deep into the real best friend kind of love the last 3-5 years.  Marriages, divorces, deaths, honesty, confessions, tears, laughter, farts, traveling and a lot of incredible conversations along the way, she is the real-deal kind of friend.  She’s not fake.  She will tell you the truth.  She stands her ground, she’s tough to argue with (because she’s smart and is an attorney), but I can hang with her and we both can love each other unconditionally which is why she remains such a dear friend to me.
  4. Rose.  Oh Rose.  The sunshine to all of us, the laughter, the kindness, the energy we all wish we had more of.  I met Rose through Eileen and I am SO grateful for that (love how God connects us Kevin Bacon style).  Rose is special in that she has more passion than most people and she radiates it and it just makes you love her even more.  You can talk love, spirituality, sex, finances, whatever with her and will NEVER feel judged and always walk away saying, “gosh, I love Rose.”  I can hear her laugh as I type this 🙂
  5. Vaneesha.  V.  My accountability partner, sister in Christ, dear, sweet friend.  I only recently met Vaneesha about 3 years ago through our church and the minute she walked in with her ear-to-ear smile, incredible fashion sense and passion for God, I knew this would be a friendship I would end up cherishing.  From our nights over food and wine, to our mornings of devotionals, to confessions and tears and sharing our fears and vulnerabilities, V has been an instrumental part of my walk with God and has grown to be one of my closest friends.

The presence of close girlfriends make up memories that go down deep into your heart and soul.  Last night, as I admired the beautiful women that surrounded me, was a memory that is now deep in my heart and soul.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Each of them were not only kind enough to take me out for champagne, oysters and sushi, but they each brought me a physical gift.  A present.  As we sipped our drinks and told stories, I opened each gift one-by-one and what kept coming to me was “I am known.”  Yes, presents are just material goods that perish, but for some reason, last night, they were far more than that.  As I opened each card that was unique with scribbles of inspiring words and love from each of them, the present that followed was just as special.

Paris in Color note cards from Sarah (she knows Paris in Color is one of my all-time favorite books) combined with Lush lavender bath balls (she knows I need to, ahem, slow down and relax).

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Chanel Chance perfume from Eileen (she knows that every girl needs a classic perfume AND I was in the market for a new perfume), followed by the greatest travel perfume holder (because she knew I wanted it).

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A glitzy gold iPhone case from Liz that she searched high and low, west coast to east coast to find for me, literally (she knows I love all things gold).

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A perfect animal-print Citrine by the Stone bracelet from Vaneesha’s favorite shop back home.  Proceeds go to a great cause (she knows I love gold jewelry, she knows my taste and she knows I love giving back).

ann-written-notes-animal-print-braceletA vintage pitcher with four matching glasses from Rose, featuring chalkboard labels (she knows I love to host and I love ANYTHING chalkboard and therefore, anything customizable).

ann-written-notes-chalkboard-glassesI truly know how blessed I am to have these women in my life.  Ladies, I love you and more importantly, thank you for loving me, thank you for knowing me and thank you for your presence and the presents.

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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.

Holiday Style Spotlight from The CHICago Life Blog

Chicago-Life-Blog-Ann-Ueno-4There are many reasons I love blogging but my favorite so far has to be the people I have met on this journey.  When I started Ann Written Notes about a year and a half ago, I had no idea how much I would learn, how much fun it would be and how awesome the blogging community is.  Bloggers are truly a unique breed of the human race.  They exude passion, creativity and drive like no other.  They are motivated, will take a picture even at the most inopportune times and will sacrifice sleep to push themselves even further and get that one last post published.  I love this breed!

And a few months ago, I met Amelia Eaton from The CHICago Life Blog at a Jayson Home event (of course, it always goes back to Jayson Home, doesn’t it?!).  We connected instantly and since that event, we have seen each other several other times around Chicago.  She and her co-founder, Samantha Voss, are wonderful, smart, creative women who are actually in law school at Loyola!  I was blown away to hear this, knowing how time-consuming law school is (my best friend is an attorney…I remember her law school days like they were yesterday!).  But I think that’s why I love these ladies…they are driven, pursue their passions on all fronts and are the kind of women you could see yourself having a glass of wine with.

So when they asked me to be part of their Holiday Style Spotlight series, I was honored, humbled and super excited!  Dress up?!  Okay.  Wear my new J Crew gold sequins pumps?!  Fine, if you want me to.  Chat about Christmas, the best holiday ever?!  Ugh, I guess.  Meet at West Elm for a photo shoot?!  Um, fine, I guess I will meet there.  If you haven’t noticed, sarcasm dominated those last few sentences.  Yeah, I was pumped.  Check out The CHICago Life Blog Holiday Style Spotlight for the full deets!

Happy Holidays!

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