On Being Thankful

I love the food, I love the day off, I love the parade, but my most favorite part of Thanksgiving is the opportunity to be with my family and the opportunity to pause and say “Thank You!” I am thankful for so much in my life.

I am thankful for my husband, Rick. We have been married for 32 years now (we were only ten when we got married – hee, hee). Rick and I have been through the poor times, the rich times and the just comfy times. We have three amazing sons who have brought us love, as well as times of worry and angst as well (parent-hood, right?).

I am so thankful for our son, Bryan, and his wife, Erin, who currently have two children – my adorable grand children Ella and Brody. They are adorable, just look at the picture I included on this blog. This coming February, they will have their third child. Another baby girl for me to spoil rotten! Yay!

I am also thankful for our son Jason who is currently building a business managing a Cutco knife enterprise.

I am thankful for our son Michael, who is home from the Marines, healthy and fine and going to school to be a paramedic. I am so very proud and thankful for this.

I am thankful to my clients, they continually put their confidence in me to find the perfect location for their meetings year after year. I love what I do and I feel honored by those that believe in me and trust me with their business.

I am thankful to the meeting planning industry (I have been in it for 18 years!) for never being boring, for keeping me on my toes and for introducing me to an amazing group of planners that I get to talk to daily on my Facebook page. And thank you for reading these blogs!!! There is nothing more fun than introducing myself to a meeting planner only to have them say, “I love your blogs!” Yes, that’s me blushing.

I am thankful that I still enjoy traveling even though airlines consistently lose my luggage (many of which contain my amazing shoes – I do not travel light), the TSA constantly harasses me, I have to practically undress to get on a plane and work to fit many a lotion and potion into approved 4 ounce or less bottles.

I am thankful for health, fun days, warm weather, a bit of snow, cars that run, happy (cooperative) people, good friends and all that makes my life run on a pretty even keel.

Thank you to you all, have an amazing Thanksgiving!

Your friend and colleague,
Jill Stone


Hey Turkey!

Next week we will wake up to parades, move onto football, and take part in an amazing meal with friends and family. Thanksgiving 2012 is here! The centerpiece of the day is the turkey, so with that in mind I thought I would share some pro tips on baking the best bird your guests have yet to taste! Be aware of the time, as you will need plenty of it before actually putting the turkey in the oven to bake.  You will want to start preparations the day before.

  • Preparing your turkey ahead of time can make a world of difference. Elizabeth Prueitt of Bar Tartine suggests a mixture of 1 cup of kosher salt, ½ cup light brown sugar, 2 Tbs of crushed juniper berries, and 2 tsp of crushed allspice berries.
  • In a large stockpot, add these ingredients to 1 gallon of broth and cook over medium high heat until boiling. Remove from heat and let cool.
  • Several pros suggest placing the brine into a 5 gallon container, along with one gallon of ice water. Next carefully place the turkey, cleaned out and dry, breast side down, into the brine, making sure the cavity is filled.
  • Carefully set the turkey into the refrigerator allowing the turkey to bathe overnight, 8 – 16 hours.
  • When it is time to bake, remove from the brine (which should then be discarded), pat the turkey dry and place it into it’s baking pan.
  • Don’t put that turkey in the oven right away! According to Thomas Keller of Per Se, it’s best to allow the turkey to come down to room temperature. To give you an idea, a 20-pound turkey should sit for about 2 hours before going into the oven.
  • Tom Colicchio of Craft says that the secret to a perfect turkey is to start the turkey at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, then to turn down the temperature to 325 degrees for the remainder of the baking time.  He also says to baste the turkey often, every 10 minutes, and use lots of butter and herbs (I like this guy). Check out his recipe!
  • Finally, let the turkey rest about 20 minutes before slicing. Yum! Your guests are going to feel so honored.

Do not forget dessert! Yes, the turkey may be the main attraction, but dessert also gets top billing in my book. By all means make sure to have pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream. And why stop at one dessert? I came across this recipe for Pumpkin Bread Pudding and I am thinking that it sounds too good not to pass up.

You’re only a week away from turkey prep time. I hope I helped you a bit with creating your amazing holiday menu. From your friendly Site Selection Specialist – Jill Stone!

*Thank you to Kiri Tannenbaum for the image!

When Meeting Meets Disaster

Disasters are rare, but they can be so big and devastating. having a bit of upfront knowledge can go a long way when you are called to act quickly. Here are some things for you to keep in mind should disaster befall your meeting.

  • Keep the Lines of Communication Open: Your attendees are privy to the same information you are when a disaster is about to hit, but they still need to know that you are aware of the situation. Make sure to send out updates via email, on your website, and on all your social media channels. Let them know that if the meeting will need to be cancelled or re-scheduled that you will let them know immediately, or even if you are in a holding pattern until additional information comes in.  In any case, let them know.
  • Put Yourself in Their Shoes: There is great comfort in knowing that your organization is on it and watching. They will look to you for information. Recognize that some people have a very difficult time with last minute change; your meeting was in their plans and now those plans are changing. Though they realize you did not actively seek to plan a meeting at the same time as impending disaster is about to hit – how you handle your communications can help to put many a mind as ease. You will also gain their trust.
  • Be in Constant Contact with your Host Property: Make sure you are working with them on a “Just in Case” Plan.  What is their flexibility on dates? Can they help you to find another property for the meeting? Explore your many options. If you were lucky enough to have a site selection manager help you find the property, their expertise will definitely come in handy at this time!
  • Learn about Insurance Now: Depending upon the size and scope of your meeting, it would behoove you to take some time to look into insurance before booking your event. This can save a lot of money down the road and help you avoid a disaster of the financial kind.
  • But We’re Already Here! If the disaster strikes while you are there, be prepared ahead of time. Make sure you have all important contacts easily accessible in both digital and written form; this will be contact information for speakers, your webmaster, your social media manager, senior people within your organization and more. Just like a good Boy Scout, make sure you carry a flashlight, bottled water, battery operated radio, charged back up batteries for electronics, etc. The most basic of items can make all the difference. Also, have copies of your insurance policies and contracts on hand.

You do not have control over disaster, but you do have control over your being ready, to the best of your abilities, if you end up in disaster’s wake. Let Hurricane Sandy serve as a reminder to all of us the importance of being prepared.

*Thank you to PetHub for the image!

More Haunted Hotels

Last year we peeked in on hotels that have been deemed haunted! This year I thought I’d scare up a few more to share with you – will you book with any of them? I dare you ; )

The Hotel Alex Johnson is located in Rapid City, South Dakota and has a legendary history for being haunted. It is surrounded by the Black Hills, so named by the Lakota, due to the hills’ dark appearance from a distance. But it is the “Lady in White” that is the most notorious haunter of this hotel. It is said she jumped out of the window to her death, from room 812, however those that know her best called it foul play. Either way, she hangs out there to this day.

Dalhousie Castle in Edinburgh is an upscale luxury hotel and spa. It is said that Sir Alexander Ramsay roams about; he was starved to death in 1342 in Hermitage Castle by William Douglas. Also, the ghost of Lady Catherine, known as the ‘Grey Lady’, has been seen around the turrets and in the dungeon of the castle.

Hotel Galvez in Galveston, Texas is known for the ghost of a young woman which walks the halls of the fifth floor. It is said that she is distraught over the loss of her fiancé, who perished at sea. Room #500 would be your best bet for meeting up with her, though it has been noted by staff and guests that she is a rather active spirit on the entire 5th floor.

Hotel Burchianti is located in Florence, Italy. If you check into the Fresco Room, you may get a bit more than you bargained for, there are multiple reports of sightings of a pink, translucent figure. As well there have been sightings of a young girl giggling in the halls, an early morning maid that travels from room to room and an elderly woman sitting in a chair knitting. Perhaps the most distressing reports are by those that were awakened in the middle of the night with the feeling that someone was pressing on their chest and they were unable to breathe!

Langham Hotel located in London has guests seeing a man in military dress, presumed to be that of a German Prince, standing by the window on the fourth floor. It is said the Prince jumped from the window. But this is not all, there are several more; a doctor who murdered his wife, then killed himself while on honeymoon, a wounded man who hangs out in the hallways, a footman in powdered wig, a ghost that has been reported as shaking and tipping guests from the bed in room 333 (strangely, these reports only seem to come around in October), even Napolean III who likes to hang out in the basement.

Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts has a reporting of  “phantom hands in Room 325 and the spectral woman on the sixth floor.” The General Manager denies it, saying that even TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society and stars of Ghost Hunters) investigated and didn’t find anything. If you ever go, let me know if you experience a haunting!

Bourbon Orleans in the French Quarter of New Orleans has no issues with sharing their ghost stories. They talk about the Confederate soldier, children and nuns, and the haunted Orleans Ballroom at their site.

Scary hotels aside, I am happy to help you find the rooms you need for you next meeting, be them haunted or not. Call me at 636-797-3405!

*Thanks to HotelChatter for the image!

Business Travel Minus the Hassle

Hear ye, hear ye! Seasoned or newbie business travelers alike! Here are some hints and tips for achieving a trek with less hassle:

Know the charges: Each airline has put forth its own twist on fees for luggage, meals, extra legroom and the like. Check out this page to find out how much you may be adding on to your fare.

Avoid luggage charges: Say goodbye to your trusty huge roller bag and divide that baggage bounty up between two smaller bags. One carry-on that will fit all your essentials and fit under the airline seat, along with a more flexible bag that will fit in the overhead bin.

Revolve your wardrobe around one color: For men, pack one color pants and jacket, then bring along different colored shirts and ties. For women, think mix and match pant, skirt, and jacket/sweater. Bring along easy-to-pack camisole tops in different colors and interesting, if not bold, jewelry to achieve varied looks. If you need to pack exercise gear, get a pair of the new lightweight workout shoes. Exercise in your undies (stay in your room for this one) with this 20 minute routine.

In your carry-on, make sure you have designated areas for your electronics, cords, notebooks, reading materials, pens, etc. This will help you to know exactly where to reach for what you need while in flight. Also, invest in smaller pouches for protecting anything that may get lost at the bottom of your bag:  vitamins, makeup, glasses, etc.

International travelers, check out Countryplug and know ahead of time the type of adapter you will need for wherever your travels take you. Make sure to have exactly what you need to recharge your electronics! Not taking this important step ahead of time is sure to create many a headache for you.

Security lines have become the bane of travel! Before you step up to the closest line, check out the other lines. Look for lines filled with mainly business travelers and less with families. Steer clear of anyone with strangely shaped baggage (think musicians, snowboarders, golfers).

Stay aware! Being aware of your surroundings is a must. When traveling you may not be as aware, you are focused on just getting there. But being aware of where you are at any given point during your travels can make a world of difference when it comes to leaving things behind or being a victim of crime. Make it a point to check in with yourself here and there.

Seasoned business travelers do not party hardy, sleep little, and stray so far from their routine that they return exhausted. Stick to a schedule, eat and drink healthy, sleep, keep up on your emails, stay connected, come back just as sane as you left.

Have safe travels. Be sure to share with me your savvy travel advice on my Facebook page!

One on One with My Client, Dewayne! Part 2

This article is  a continuation of the article that appeared in a recent HelmsBriscoe newsletter. I shared the first part in my blog last week, so if you missed it, please be sure to read it now. Here is the remaining part of the article:

When asked if there are any distinctive qualities to the site selection process for SWCS (Soil and Water Conservation Society), Jill says, “One of the more important factors is actually near and dear to my heart, their meetings are environmentally conscience. The hotel property must have a green policy; this includes recycling, placing water pitchers in the back of the room as opposed to every single table, offering to wash linens on a less than daily basis, and so on.”

Of the RFP process, Jill says, “Before government employee attendance became a factor, I created the RFPs on my own. Since we are now in a state of adjustment, we’re proceeding with a bit of caution, so I do currently need to look to Dewayne’s so I can keep up with all the changes.”  Even so, Jill does do most of the negotiating on behalf of SWCS. She puts the number at “99.5% of the negotiating.”

As far as site visits are concerned, Jill says, “Most of the time there is no need for me to be there, Dewayne handles this end on his own.” She adds, “I do, however, attend some of the programs. I want to make sure to familiarize myself with all my clients’ events so that I may gain a clearer understanding on how the space is allocated, and if the space works well for their meetings and unique needs. This allows me to fine-tune the site selection process and RFPs for their future meetings.”

Dewayne expressed again and again about how Jill truly does go “above and beyond” for him. Jill says, “We are in the hospitality business, so we tend to be hospitable.” She continues, “I do whatever it takes and then some to get my client’s what they need.  I feel responsible for their meetings, and sometimes will go back and forth many times while negotiating on behalf of the client.”

Jill also counts her dedication to staying on top of what is going on in the industry as part of her service. “I share trending information via all my social media outlets! I make sure my clients know what is on the horizon and how these changes will specifically effect them and their meetings.” As far as what she is seeing right now, “Hotel rates are going up due to more transient travel, contract signing time limits are shortened, hotels cannot hold space anymore – there is more demand, but the supply has barely changed over the past four years. Due to these rising rates, I provide a necessary service for my clients; I can guide them and make sure we find the best possible solutions for all their meetings.”

Meetings and business aside, Jill and Dewayne both feel that they have also found a true friendship. As Jill says, “We swap family stories all the time, I look forward to hearing his wonderful stories about his wife Amy and son, Lucas. He in turn hears about the ever growing family that my husband Rick and I have. We have three sons, two grandchildren and a third on the way!” Dewayne shared that they are also Facebook friends, they have been on several site visits together and have attended a number of the same industry events. Dewayne says, “Jill is fun; she is witty, laughs a lot and is one of those people that can find humor in almost everything!” Jill describes Dewayne as, “The nicest guy I know!”

About the relationship overall, Dewayne sums it up nicely, “If we did as many meetings together as Jill has pairs of shoes, we would be unstoppable. We could lead HelmsBriscoe!”

If you want to connect with and learn more about my world, please feel free to come over and check me out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest!

One on One with My Client, Dewayne! Part 1

This article is in a HelmsBriscoe newsletter and I wanted to make sure to share it with all of you! It allows you some insight as to how I work with my clients, all of which I adore. I divided into two parts as it is a longer than usual read, at least when it comes to my posts. Thank you, as always, for reading my blogs!

“She keeps me sane,” says Dewayne Johnson about Jill Stone. Dewayne is the Professional Development Director at The Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS); he has worked for the past six years with Jill Stone, a long time HelmsBriscoe associate, to plan several meetings each year. His meetings include an annual international forum, several board meetings and specialty meetings, along with plenty of last minute “pop up meetings,” as Dewayne calls them.

Strong relationships are at the foundation of what makes HelmsBriscoe successful; if the client and associate are not in a place of trust with each other, it simply will not work. As Dewayne shares, “Jill is my contract expert; I do not see near as many contracts as she does. This, along with her industry knowledge, her keen ability to perceive possible issues and her talent for finding opportunities is why she is always my first phone call – whenever a meeting is to be planned. I absolutely trust her!”

So where did this all begin? Jill shares that at the time she was working with Natural Resource Conservation Services, another association which is also a member of the SWCS.  Dewayne had just come on board with SWCS, when a contact at Natural Resource Conservation told him about Jill. “We clicked right off the bat,” says Jill, “I knew right away that I would enjoy working with Dewayne. He is the perfect client; he understands the process, is very aware of the information I need in order to best serve each unique meeting and on top of that, it’s fun to work with him!”

As with any relationship, challenges are bound to occur. “Everything was going along great,” says Dewayne, “until the economy downturn. Historically we experienced growth every year and had worked our contracts to reflect that anticipated growth. When the bottom fell out we were so lucky to have Jill on our side, her expertise helped us greatly limit our liability. She has gone above and beyond!” Jill adds, “The challenge was due to the government ‘grounding’ employees. They announced that they would no longer reimburse employees for travel, so those accustomed to attending certain events were instead staying put and going nowhere. We ran into attrition issues, of course, and I stepped in to help mitigate.”

There are other benefits to the relationship as well, Dewayne stresses, “She really does keep me sane, we can be looking at 15 different properties at any given time, Jill keeps it all organized, reminds me of the pros and cons of each property and is truly concerned about finding the best possible location for each meeting.” “I love representing his association,” says Jill, “I believe in what they are doing, they are essentially saving the planet! The focus of the association is on the conservation of soil and water; they help farmers to better manage landscapes for environmental productivity and keep the soil on the ground, where it should be.”

Be sure to check out my blog next week for the rest of the article!

If you want to connect with and learn more about Jill Stone, she is pretty easy to find! She is very active on many social media platforms! Her Twitter handle is @jillstonehb, she has a Facebook Fan Page at https://www.facebook.com/jillstonehb, you can connect with her via LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/HBJillStone, check out her boards on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/HBJillStone/ and she writes weekly blogs about meeting planning, site selection, and many other fun and the wacky topics at https://jillstone.wordpress.com/.