Travel tips, stories, and adventures from around the world.

Category: Life Updates

Our First Summer in Japan

Summer in Japan! A quick roundup of all the festivals, events and other cool things we did during our first summer in Japan!

TL;DR As temps dip into the 60’s, reflecting on some of the summer shenanigans we got ourselves into. These are smaller events that don’t really warrant an entire post, so we’ll do round-ups like this at the end of big seasons. To keep up with us in the moment, follow @frompineapples and @frompineapples.eats (all ze foods) on Insta! 

Summer in Japan – the season of Festivals!

At it’s peak, Summer temps were steadily in the high 90’s in Tokyo (and humidity hung around creating a sauna everywhere you went), so we honestly left the apartment as little as humanly possible.

That being said, we did manage to get out and check out some of the amazing Summer festivals that Japan is known for. We already posted about the Tanabata Festival (which was mildly disappointing), but we checked out a few others that were pretty amazing!

An hour of fireworks in Kita-Senju – Adachi Fireworks Festival

Summer in Japan - Adachi Fireworks

Epic. Fireworks for an hour straight along the river with yukata-clad people (like 600,000 of them, not even exaggerating). Thanks Maisha for coming with and letting me hang out at your place after to avoid the INSANE lineup for trains!

30,000 Lanterns at Yasukuni Shrine – Mitama Matsuri

Summer in Japan - Mitama Matsuri

Mid-July so it was a sweltering sauna, but still worth it! So pretty! Make sure you have an escape plan out of the area since restaurants around there were just as packed as food stalls and convenience stores.

Island Music Festival

No Hawaiian or local food, but lots of strong drinks! Haha. Which made for a lot of fun times, with great performances (to the crowd’s delight, Konishiki performed too!) even though headliner Fiji never showed. Lol.

Tachikawa Manpaku Food Festival

So. Much. Food. We utilized the divide-and-conquer strategy and ended up with a couple of donburi (raw meat and sashimi from Tsukiji), three types of curry pan, mochi-gyoza (this was delish), and a melon + ice cream + soda parfait and strawberry slushie thing. Everything was amaaaazing and we got there around 10:30am, so the lines weren’t bad at all! 500 yen entrance fee.

Other summer happenings

Truth be told, those were the only actual festivals we attended. Our summer was highlighted with a ton of exploring (check out our new walking series) and some smaller events and art shows.

Team Lab – Borderless

There’s been a ton of Internet buzz about this digital art show over in Odaiba – and for good reason. We did early bird tickets (2400 yen) and spent over three hours exploring the massive exhibit (you could easily spend more time in there, if you check out the tea house or play any of the interactive games / art projects). I posted a few pics on Instgram, but here’s a few more! It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re ever in town!

Art Aquarium – Night Aquarium

Less publicized, but still pretty amazing is the Nihonbashi’s Art Aquarium. Much smaller (literally one room and a hallway) and you can get through it in an hour then spend time exploring Nihonbashi!

Google’s “Cutest Haunted House”

For a week, Google had the “cutest haunted house” (it wasn’t scary at all and I’m the biggest scaredy-cat ever) in Omotesando. Directions and tickets were via the Japanese (!) google assistant and everything was in Japanese when we arrived, but all that studying is paying off! Haha. More pics on our Insta.

Capture the Flag and Dodgeball

Meetups! While I’ve been having fun at Dodgeball, I have to admit I LOVED glow in the dark Capture the Flag! We used glowsticks on both the flag and each team member and ran around Yoyogi Park for a couple of hours. Let it be known that I’m slow and super unintimidating, but I still had a blast. Also sprinting around in the dark is both dangerous and a crazy good workout (I’ve never hurt so much!).

Makerfaire

Makerfaire Japan! One of the striking differences was the insane amount of robotics projects – from robot soccer to robots playing instruments, there were a ton of interactive projects that let you control or play with them. Also a lot of very Japanese-ey things – I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Lol. We had an amazing time – hoping to come up with some cool ideas and have a booth of our own next year!

That’s a wrap!

It’s been an amazing 6 months, but now that Fall is in full swing, I can’t wait to see the leaves change colors! I’ve honestly missed seasons – and more importantly, I’m happy the hot humid summer days are over with!

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Learning Japanese – My Monthly Syllabus for Self-Study

So, how am I learning Japanese? SLOWLY. Haha. 2x/week Skype classes via iTalki, at least 1x/week language exchange meetup and apps (Anki, HelloTalk, VoiceTra and Google Translate). Practice makes…super far from perfect, but kind of slowly getting there!

TL;DRSo, how am I learning Japanese? SLOWLY. Haha. 2x/week Skype classes via iTalki, language exchange meetups at least once a week and apps (Anki, HelloTalk, VoiceTra and Google Translate). Practice makes…super far from perfect, but any progress is still progress!

The Starting Line

I can’t believe it, but we’ve been in Japan for nearly FIVE months now. FIVE MONTHS! If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t start studying or taking any classes until July, though. The first few months were dedicated to finding an apartment, then we spent a week on a Cruise through Alaksa and another week back in Hawaii for work before coming back and feeling out of sorts. My first order of business upon our return was to take classes and figure out what my new normal would be like here.

To give you an idea of my starting point – I could get around (granted we’re in Tokyo where all the signage is in English) and order at restaurants. I could have some pretty simple conversations, like – the weather, or directions, but beyond that – it was all a guess. I took 2 years in high school and 1 semester in college – but in college, I started in 101 because I wanted the easy A. My understanding of particle usage and basic grammar has been mostly forgotten. I sort of just guess which particle sounds right. Hahaha. My vocab is also super tiny and mostly useless, even for everyday conversation.

Finding a Teacher

I started off by taking a once a week part time class (the full-time classes are all in the morning or middle of the day, so they didn’t work with my schedule) – but the class was too easy. There was no homework, tests or any motivation to study between classes. When it comes to learning Japanese, I have a history of being lazy and need that forced accountability to be productive. So I stopped those classes after the first four weeks and dove head first into finding an online tutor. I figure it’d save me a commute into central Tokyo, and I could be more flexible since I’d just need to be at home.

I spent a LOT of hours reading teacher bios on iTalki, watching their videos and trying to figure out how they run their classes. After a ton of research, I decided I needed trial classes and booked 6 of them in a week. I weeded out teachers that didn’t specifically mention being able to provide curriculum and homework / tests then spent 30 min – an hour with my top picks. The results were mixed. If ya’ll are interested, I can write up the individual teacher assessments (I have a bunch of notes) and link to their bios in italki. Lmk in the comments.

The teacher I decided to go with was awesome – super strict with pronunciation, provided a clear curriculum for where we’re headed and assessed me during our initial call to figure out what my current level was (he tested me, ack!). It’s been a few weeks and while I sometimes find myself getting annoyed when I’m tongue-tied trying to pronounce san-zen-en correctly, I’m still super happy with my choice.

How I’m Learning Japanese

So – here are the various channels that I’m using to learn Japanese. I’ll check in at the end of the year with an update (for sure this will change as time goes on).

  • iTalki (Classes / Video Chat) – I have a 1 hour class on Tuesdays and a 1.5 hour class on Fridays. My Teacher: https://www.italki.com/teacher/1040742. I also met a few people on iTalki that want to just video chat to practice, so since mid-August I’ve been meeting weekly for an hour or so with a language partner (we swap languages every 10 minutes).
  • Genki I and Minna No Nihongo (Textbooks) – These are the books recommended by both my teacher and basically everyone I’ve talked to. I actually completed Genki in High School and College (HA) but that was a good 15 years ago. My memory (and my previous studying habits) are pretty much the worst. Haha. I’m going through both textbooks during my classes with my iTalki Sensei.
  • HelloTalk (App) – You post “moments” which are just like status updates and people can hop on and correct you. My only concern is that varying levels of Japanese (similar to folks correcting English) could mean you might not always get corrected, correctly. Either way, for my level, it’s 1000% better than my guesswork. The only downside is that it sometimes feels like a dating app when only guys are messaging you. LOL. I think if you’re cool with ignoring direct messages (I only use it for moments, tbh) then you’ll be fine.
  • Watch Japanese TV Shows – (wait for it…) with JAPANESE subs on. Don’t cheat with the English subs! SUUUURE you’ll pick up a few words here and there, but if you want to level up, you need to put in the work. Japanese subs which mean a ton of time spent looking up translations. Anime also doesn’t really count, since the words that they use are typically not the way people speak in real life. Reality shows have been my go-to (Terrace House, Midnight Diner, etc). I have a Netflix Japan account, but I’m pretty sure Netflix US has a bunch!
  • Anki (App) – If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you already know about this app. However, #protip – create your own decks. While using someone’s pre-loaded 2,000 core words deck SEEMS great, for me, I learn organically. So I input phrases that I’m learning in class or with friends, plus corrected sentences from HelloTalk and phrases from shows like Terrace House and Midnight Diner. While I might not hit on every “core” word in order, it’s been much easier for me to remember things like “niku jiken” (meat incident) LOL.
  • WaniKani (webapp – I’ve just recently started using this app to learn radicals and kanji. I’ll check back in at the end of the year for a real review.
  • Read NHK Easy News – I try to read at least 1 article a day. It’s also helpful in keeping tabs on what’s going on in Japan!
  • Meetups – My goal was once a week and I’ve been surprisingly consistent so far. These focus on blocks of time (15 minutes) spent alternating between speaking English and Japanese. It’s a good place to practice actually USING Japanese with real people, in person!

My Weekly Schedule

Here’s a pretty basic outline of what I’ve been doing every week. My weekends are Sunday/Monday, so I typically don’t schedule any daily study time on those days:

  • Tuesday – Saturday (90min/day):
    • 30 min writing practice
    • 10 min reading practice
    • 20 min grammar/notes review
    • 30 min reviewing Anki/WaniKani flashcards before bed
  • Tuesday (1 hour): iTalki Class
  • Thursday (1 hour): Skype with Language Exchange Partner
  • Friday (1.5 hours): iTalki Class
  • Sunday (2 hours): IRL Language Exchange Meetup

I’m currently struggling with finding structure beyond just switching between English and Japanese during my online language exchange sessions. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know in the comments. We usually end up just chatting about daily life and I stay within my comfort zone of vocab, which I feel may not be super productive.

Find Your Why

I think the most important thing to do before you start learning Japanese (or any language), is to figure out WHY you want to learn. Unless you’re in school every day, it’s tough to stay motivated with self-study! For me, even when I knew we were going to move here, I didn’t make the time to study much before we moved. Now that we’re here, the struggle is real. There’s a lot of motivation behind wanting to read the mail, the menu at restaurants and just being able to express myself to the people I meet.

Heck, even WITH these reasons, I sometimes find myself unmotivated! Especially when I spend a bunch of time studying and I don’t feel like I’m any better. It’s all relative though – and I just have to compare my level to that first meetup I went to last December when I swear I sat there and smile/nodded through most of the 15-minute Japanese sessions. These days, I can at least figure out the gist of what people are saying! Haha.

In any case – get to the heart of your motivation and burn that in your heart and soul – cause at the end of the day, it’s the small consistent actions that will lead to big changes over time!

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Treasure hunting for Forrest Fenn’s gold in Yellowstone National Park

I went hunting for Forrest Fenn’s treasure in Yellowstone National Park and you should do it too! It was an absolutely amazing and breathtaking experience – my only regret is it took me 40 years to get here!

TL;DRI went hunting for Forrest Fenn’s treasure in Yellowstone Park and you should too – it was an absolutely amazing and breathtaking experience. My only regret is that it took me almost 40 years to get out there – oh – and don’t worry, we didn’t find any treasure… yet. If you do one thing in this blog post, make sure to read our lessons learned – especially if you’re planning on searching for Fenn’s treasure.

You went what?!@

Yes, I went treasure hunting.

Even though I’d like to think of myself as fairly calculating, I think most people would consider me impulsive.  When I first heard about Fenn’s poem back in 2012, I jotted it down on my “someday” to-do list, and vowed that one day, I’d have to make a go of it. After all, who wouldn’t want to participate in a real-life Goonies adventure!

Welp, as fate would have it, that someday was about a month ago.

What exactly is Forrest Fenn’s Treasure?

In 2010, an eccentric, millionaire art dealer named Forrest Fenn buried a treasure worth millions in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe.  He included clues to the treasure’s location in a poem contained within his 2010 memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase” (which we purchased).  Over the years, Forrest has given hints about the treasure through various media outlets.  It’s been estimated that over a hundred thousand “Fennatics” have gone searching. In addition, the chase has been attributed to at least four deaths since its beginning.

Here’s an Instagram photo that contains the poem from his memoir:

 

Just to give you an idea of how popular the chase is, here’s a few links to large media outlets who have reported on Forrest Fenn’s treasure in the last few years.

How do you plan for a treasure hunt?

Well, the very first thing I did was convince other people to go with me because Sara wasn’t letting me go into bear country alone. Luckily, two of my childhood friends volunteered to accompany me on this hunt (and they didn’t even need any coaxing!).

Since this was going to be primarily an exploration expedition, and I was a bit preoccupied moving to Tokyo, we didn’t plan as much as I would have liked.  We had a few two in-person planning sessions which consisted of meeting at Zippys for a few hours to brainstorm where the treasure could be.  We also created an online chat so that we could collaborate when we weren’t meeting in person.  The chat was used fairly regularly to post links from the Interwebs, potential solves, questions, and what not.  Not to mention, it preserves history! (Protip: If you do just one thing from this blog, I’d highly recommend doing this.)

Not to mention, the Internet is littered with resources that we used to help us along:

I want to say that I tried not to look at other people’s solves because I didn’t want to have too much confirmation bias, but the temptation is too great, and it’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll get trapped in a k-hole reading where other people have been. In any case, we all agreed that the treasure should probably be somewhere near Yellowstone National Park – so that’s where we headed!

Our Itinerary

Day 1

We arrived in Bozemon, Montana from Seattle, Washington at around 1 in the afternoon. The three things on our actual agenda for the day were the following:

  1. Picking up our rental car so we could drive down to our Island Park AirBnb
  2. Stop by the Costco outside of Bozemon so we could pick up food for the week
  3. Stop by somewhere to get bear spray, a whistle, and a map of Yellowstone

After picking up our rental car and (rental) bear spray cans (don’t buy new ones if you’re only temporarily visiting!), we headed down to Costco to pick up luncheon meat, snacks, water, and other goodies for our week near Yellowstone. Since the nearest grocery store would be 20-30 minutes away, we wanted to make sure our AirBnb was decently stocked.  The drive from Bozemon took a few hours – we arrived at the AirBnb around 6 pm and proceeded to just relax and unpack – after all, we had a long week ahead of us.

Protip: If you can afford it and are staying west of Yellowstone, I’d highly suggest eating dinners in the town of West Yellowstone. For one, if you’re really seeking out treasure, it’s going to be a long day – you’re not going to want to cook dinner after a long day of hiking, hunting, and driving. Second, there are a lot of different restaurants that have exotic meats – bison, elk, etc. and it’s nice to support a town built on tourism.

Day 2

Prior to arriving at Yellowstone, we wanted to make sure that we at least saw all the big tourist attractions since we didn’t know when we’d be back. We drove the southern portion of the Great Loop and saw:

Protip: The geyser is called Old Faithful because it’s one of a few geysers that park rangers can predict. Intervals between eruptions range from 60-110 minutes and they normally last between 1.5-5 minutes long.  Sit on the boardwalk for an up-close view or walk up the side of the mountain for a far-away view with a lot less people – I did both – or if you’re uber lazy, just take a peek at their livestream. XD

Day 3

Today was the first day (and ironically, our only day) attempting a potential solve. We ended up going to a place called Boulder Spring off of the Ojo Caliente. It was absolutely beautiful and while there wasn’t a single person in sight, there was a lot of roaming bison. We searched for a few hours, but alas, Fenn’s treasure was nowhere to be seen. If you’d like to see why we thought Boulder Spring was a potential solve, feel free to leave a remark in the comments!

After taking a small break, we decided to check out one more place before calling it a day.

Protip: If you’re hunting for Fenn’s treasure, prior to searching – set appropriate time limits of how long you want to search within an area as well as how you plan to fan out the search.  Since we didn’t plan this, we sort of meandered around the solve for a few hours until we were all tired. Based on what Forrest has said, we believed that we should be able to see the “blaze” and the treasure immediately – but this may not be the case, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.  Also, Grand Prismatic Spring is a must see!

Day 4

We were planning on saving another solve for our last day so that we could do a little more research (bad planning on our part) – so instead, we decided to drive the northern portion of the Great Loop and saw the following:

Protip: I think you could spend a lot longer than we spent at Mammoth Springs and even stay for a few days in the area. Although we walked the entire springs, it’s quite a sight to see – I didn’t realize it then, but the contrast in the landscape is pretty amazing. We ate dinner at a small cafe called Mountain Mama’s Cafe. I would definitely recommend it if you’d like to try a bit more exotic meats like bison, elk, pheasant, etc. You can pick up Huckleberry ice cream sandwiches at the grocery store across the street!

Day 5

Our last day!

We were planning to attempt another potential solve, but the weather was absolutely terrible and someone in our party felt ill so we decided to just grab lunch in town and pack for our trip back to Bozemon.  Since I now live in Tokyo, anytime I’m in the states I really have a jonesin’ for Mexican food because it’s virtually impossible to get in Japan. We decided to eat at Las Palmitas – a Mexican restaurant in a bus! It was really tasty – definitely recommended. Before heading back to the AirBnb, we stopped by Lake Hebgen for a short bit.  I got to walk around and explore the area by myself, but I must admit that it was really creepy with all these “Grizzly Bears frequent this area” signage.

Lessons Learned

  1. Yellowstone National Park is absolutely beautiful. Forrest once stated that the whole purpose of his endeavor is “to get people off the couch, off the video games.” Well played, Mr. Fenn. It got me to visit my first national park in 40 years of life, and I don’t even live in the country anymore!
  2. It’s been said ad nauseam, but once you get “boots on the ground” (BOTG), everything is much bigger in real life when compared to a computer screen; I don’t care how big your monitor is. Even a small search area could potentially take hours to investigate – depending on how thorough you are – so plan accordingly!
  3. We winged it – we’re 3 dudes born and raised on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No matter how much research we did before we arrived at Yellowstone, there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself. I walked around Lake Hebgen by myself early one morning, and I’ll be the first to admit, the silence coupled with all the “Beware of bears” signage had me pooping my pants.  There’s nothing that will prepare you for that, so just get out there and explore!
  4. If you can afford it, you should stay as close to Yellowstone as possible – potentially even in the park if you can get an RV camper. We stayed in Island Park at an AirBnb and even though it was awesome – it was about 30 minutes away from the entrance to West Yellowstone – so it was a 60-minute drive every day.
  5. There will be a lot of traffic because of animals near the road and tourists that don’t follow directions. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So don’t freak out. We spent at least 3 hours one day waiting for bison to move from the side of the road. Coupled with the tourists stopping in the middle of a one-lane road to take pictures, you’re bound to get trapped behind some insane traffic. Make sure you have a lot of podcasts saved on your phone and/or everyone has an offline mobile game. There were times we literally shut our engine off because of the traffic.
  6. At the very least, make sure to create an online chat room (with unlimited history – sorry, no Slack!) to document your potential solves. You’ll thank me when you decide to head back the following year. Not to mention, you’ll want to use an assortment of other online tools (Google Docs, AirTable, etc) to help provide some structure to this process.

The adventure was amazing – amazing enough to do it again. I wish I could say that we found the treasure, but there’s actually a ton of satisfaction in just planning and searching. There’s quite a bit of work involved, and it isn’t something that most people can say – especially those from an island in the middle of the ocean.

In front of Yellowstone sign

In front of Yellowstone sign

So for that, thank you, Mr. Fenn.

Now that we have an idea of what the experience actually entails, follow me next year as we head back in an RV camper!

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Come visit us in 中野区 (Nakano-ku)!

We’re finally settled in our two-bedroom apartment in Nakano-ku, Tokyo. Here’s a publicly-shared Google calendar that shows our extra bedroom’s availability. If we’ve crossed paths in life and you need a place to stay in Tokyo, please email us. If the room is available, it’s yours!

It’s been an entire month without a post, but don’t worry, we’re still here.  We’ve just been extremely busy with our move to Tokyo! If you think moving is really stressful (spoiler: it is), moving to another country where you don’t speak the language is quite… well, quite the experience (spoiler: next level stressful).

It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

One thing that really caught us off-guard is how untrusting (some) Japanese people and companies were with us. Being from Hawaii, I know we’re generally a lot friendlier and trusting than peeps in big cities. However, Sara and I both have a lot going for us career / education-wise so it was a bit frustrating. Not to mention, we’re both ethnically Japanese, and (I think) I qualify as a highly skilled professional (- foreigners Japan is currently trying to attract!). We experienced so many highs/lows (and nuances) moving to Japan that we’ll have to save that rant for another day.

In any case, we finally made it!

We wanted to send a small update to say that we’ve finally settled into a small two bedroom apartment in Nakano-ku!  We’re on the south side of the station – so it’s quiet and suburban-like with the madness of Nakano Broadway only a few minutes away. We’re also one stop from Shinjuku and one transfer (three stops) away from Shibuya.

Now to the important part.

If we’ve ever crossed paths in life* and you need a place to stay in Tokyo, please email us!

No guarantees, but if the room is available, we’ll try to get you in.

*Even if we’ve never met, we love to meet new friends.


Here’s a Google calendar that shows the extra room’s availability.

Bonus points to my mother-in-law who will be our first guest in a few weeks! Yay, mom!

p.s. We’d also like to give a big shout-out to Tomo, Misaki, Sheldon/Eri, and Lisa – because without y’all, none of this would have been possible. <3

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Follow us as we document our move to Tokyo, Japan!

Follow us, a Japanese couple from Hawaii, as we document our move to Tokyo! Hopefully, through this experience, we’ll learn about our family’s history and what being Japanese is really all about.

For once, I don’t have a TL;DR for this post. The title says it all! We’ve moved to Tokyo!

Wait, what! We’ve finally moved to Tokyo!

Since a lot of people have been asking questions, we created a post to help answer them.

Why are you moving to Tokyo?

We’re not going for family nor work nor <insert your favorite, logical reason here> – I guess one could say we’re moving for adventure.  It’s been a dream of ours since we first met more than 8 years ago, and it’s been in the works since we lived in NYC / SF over 3 years ago. Hopefully, through this experience, we’ll both learn a bit about our family’s history and what being Japanese is really about.

What kind of Visa did you get?

I received a boring Spousal Visa. Lucky Me!

On the other hand, Sara received a Long Term Resident Visa via ancestry by proving she’s sansei (thanks grandma!). It was a long process that took a little over 6 months, and we had help from an immigration attorney to help submit our application. Sara’s planning to blog about what she needed to provide and do because there isn’t a ton of information online aside from a post or two in the Japan / Japan Life subreddits.

How long are you staying?

Sara says FOREVER!

(Just kidding, we’ll come back to visit.)

Seriously though, we don’t currently have any plans to return home, but life does come at you fast, so who knows?

What are you going to be doing?

Well, for one, we’re working.

Sara will be working remotely for Colliers International because it’s her first true love job – she’s been with them since she was a rebellious teenager – except for that one time she cheated on them with CBRE in New York. Hehe. For the past few years, I’ve been really interested in helping preserve the past – so to continue on with that journey, I’ll be working on a small storytelling app.

We’re also going to be exploring the city/country and learning a bit of Japanese in the process. My goal is to be able to give people tours of the city for the 2020 Olympics!

Where are you going to live?

For the next few weeks, we’re staying in an AirBnb in West Tokyo. Since neither of us have to go into Central Tokyo for work, we’re planning on finding a place near Tachikawa  station to get a bit more space so people can stay with us. Tachikawa is ~30 minute ride to Shinjuku.

Can I stay with you?

No.

Props out to you if you actually read this far, but then you’ll also know that we got a larger place so that people can stay with us. Just hit us up to see if the room is available.

That’s it for now! 🙂

If there’s anything else you’re curious about, let us know in the comments!

 

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Our family reunion retrospective! – [ Part 3 of 3 ]

Through a retrospective of our family reunion, learn what we would have done differently so you don’t make the same mistakes. Learn what went well and how we plan to improve for the next one! Part 3 of a 3 part series.

Family Photo

Our Family!

In my experience of writing software in a team, one of the most important steps – if not the most important – is the capacity to speak objectively (as a team) about the events that led up to the release of the software.

I like to call this the “the good, the bad, and the ugly“.

While the act itself is important as a team learning experience, I believe that the retrospective is critical because it’s another step towards being able to speak objectively and critically in a team setting – an act that promotes “psychological safety” within a team.

Google the term if you want to learn more about high-performing teams, but having worked on a number of them in my career, I’ve always found that the most functional teams I’ve been on have exhibited characteristics of being “psychologically safe”.

Obviously, this takes both comfort and practice, but after 8 years, Sara and I are more than comfortable enough to be able to speak critically of one another, so I’m sharing what we discussed privately in our retrospective of our family reunion.

The Good

If expected outcomes were our measure of success, we definitely succeeded because we fulfilled them all! Not to mention, quite a few family members thanked us for our efforts – that should be one of the first signs that we did a lot of things right.

  • People mingled
  • Took a great family photo
  • Ended up with a lot of corrections to the family tree
  • As an added bonus, got email addresses for a large chunk of the family where I’ve been sending updates about this blog to! Hi fam! 😀

For having only a week’s time to prepare for the 50+ person event, the organizing went extremely smoothly. We weren’t cramming the night before and had spread out the tasks over the entire week.  I attribute this to Sara’s planning / organizing skills because they’re much, much better than mine. Here’s some protips (from Sara) on how to make an event go smoothly:

  • Create a timeline of the day’s events and print out hard-copies to distribute to everyone
  • Put all assets in labeled manila folders to be distributed on the day of the event – the more granular and contextually organized the items, the better.
  • Always carry extra items like pens, post-its, extra copies of print-outs and what not.
  • Pack the night before so you’re not scrambling the morning/day of.

The print out of the family tree definitely worked out better than we imagined. There were a lot of family members who fixed the tree, but it also acted as an event anchor that encouraged interactions between members of our family. If we were to recommend one item to be reused from our reunion, this would be it.

The Bad

There were a few hiccups on the day of the reunion – for one, the venue actually didn’t have the appropriate seating arrangement (nor was it even possible), so we had to move people around 30 minutes before everyone arrived. I won’t lie – it was a bit hectic because there were only two of us that knew all the details. In critical situations, I tend to wear a manager hat and order people around. Ultimately, I have to remember that it’s family and not a place of business – so I don’t think I handled that as well as I could have – since after all, this is supposed to be a fun gathering – who cares about these minor inconveniences. 😀

Second, while we did have a planning schedule, we misplaced it in the chaos and so we  improvised in the moment. As a result, we failed to give detailed instructions to the people at the check-in table. This led to pseudo-random distribution of favors and missed collection of email addresses. Ultimately, this was totally our fault due to the lack of communication. On a good note, we did later remedy the situation by manually walking around the venue and collecting email addresses.

Last, while I tried to stick to the schedule on the sheet that Sara printed out – and I kept reminding myself to, I ended up making up the schedule on the fly. While it worked out this time, in future events, that may not be the case. I really have to get better at sticking to pre-planned schedules. 😀

The Ugly

We have a fairly decent camera, but unfortunately, because of a setting enabled on the camera and the poor lighting in the room, a lot of the pictures came out blurry. This was partly due to the fact that the camera is pretty new, and Sara didn’t have a ton of experience using it. With that said, the group photo of our family was taken by another member so we did end up with a nice photo. We should have taken a few shots the night before and checked them out, but in our haste, we didn’t and ultimately lost a bunch of photos.

What We Would Do Differently

All in all, I think given the circumstances, we planned a great an amazing family reunion, but if we’re never critical of what we’ve done, we’ll never improve. So, here’s a list of items in no particular order of what we would have done differently:

  • Have more people show up early and be involved in the setup. We should have communicated a setup plan the night before with a small group of people instead of shouldering it ourselves.
  • Definitely take some photos the night before to see how the camera would perform.
  • Highlight features of Ancestry.com earlier in the event. We didn’t show all the amazing features of Ancestry until right before the end. There’s a lot of documents that Ancestry has collected that people were interested in such as the census scans, draft cards, yearbook photos, etc. It piqued quite a bit of people’s interest.
  • I really wanted to print out something physical that everyone in the family could take home. While we are giving out a family photo as a prize for this reunion, one of my dreams is to be able to print out family baseball cards where the back of the card would have trivia about a person’s life. One of these days, I tell you…
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