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Doing Tokyo with 3

After spending 2016 at home, we’re in Tokyo with kids 1, 2, and 5.

The plan is to eat up all of the food we can stuff into our faces, do a bit of Disney and then head to Hokkaido for some skiing. We briefly considered bringing all 5 kids along for this adventure but that would have been hardcore level masochistic and I’m only moderately masochistic so we’re here with just 3 kids.

How do we choose which kids get to travel? It involves a very scientific methodology called “How Many Can We Bring Without Killing Ourselves Or Losing Any Kids”.

At this point, baby Hayley = Finn + Theo in terms of high maintenance quotient, so we had to choose either the baby or the two boys and since baby Hayley needs her food delivery system in the form of my boobs, she gets dibs this round. We could probably have done kids 1, 2, 3, 5 or 1, 2, 4, 5 but that would mean leaving either Finn or Theo at home, which would be super sad and lonesome for the one who doesn’t get to go. This way, they will both be slightly less sad and not at all lonesome.

It’s like that riddle where the guy has to cross the river with the fox, chicken and corn, except instead of animals and food, we have babies.

Truett and Kirsten are thrilled to have each other for company and they’re having a blast. I was like “if you guys could pick only 1 sibling to travel with, who would it be?” and they immediately shouted “OF COURSE KOR KOR/KIRSTEN!!” They are usually very politically correct with these pick-a-favourite-sibling/parent dilemmas I like to dish out but this time, there was no hesitation.

If we go with the small kids, we will be so busy taking care of them, it’ll be like hard work. With each other, we can just relax and play,” they explained.

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Fair enough.

//

More to come soon, but Tokyo has been a delight. I think Japan is becoming one of my favourite places to visit.

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Keepin’ it real at Kidzania

I need to tell you about last weekend when we brought all 4 kids to KL to visit KidZania. I know, all 4 kids!!! Out of the country!! This is called level-up parenting, wherein we attempt a test run somewhere manageable before considering something really crazy.

We’ll talk more about this later, but first, KidZania KL. 

When we first found out about Kidzania 2 years ago during a trip to Bangkok, it was one of those “woah, how do I not know that this place exists??!!” kind of moments. Because how did a place this fun just fly under the radar without me hearing about it?

The concept is great – it’s sort of like a cross between a play area and a real-world experience where kids get to have a go at different occupations. And the place is huge, with 90 different activities to choose from, ranging from popular occupations like doctors, pilots, firemen, to lesser known ones like travel agents and HR consultants.

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//I’m jumping the gun here but how adorable is this? I’ll say right now that if this is my courier delivery guy, my online shopping situation is going to be out of control.

Okay, so each kid starts off the day with 50 kidzos, and every station offers an opportunity to earn more cash or to spend it. At the end of the day, they can use their kidzos to shop for memorabilia at the department store. They can also choose to save it for use at a later time (and at any KidZania around the world).

This is great for teaching the kids about economics and wealth accumulation. Now that Truett and Kirsten have a better understanding of how savings work with their pocket money, they were very diligent with how they spent their kidzos.

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Here are all the things you need to know for a visit to KidZania:

1. Go during off-peak periods. 

This is one of those places where the kids’ enjoyment is inversely proportional to the number of kids there at the same time because more kids = more time spent queueing = less fun. Unlike theme parks where there are filler shows/parades to spread out the crowd, all the kids will be spending their time queueing for one of the popular activity stations.

2. Not all activities are created equal. 

You’ll soon realise that the some of the stations are far more popular than others and you’ll either want to head straight to the pilot/fireman/paramedic station first thing in the morning or spend an hour in the queue later in the day. These activities all had hour-long queues the 2 days we were there.

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Other occupations like mobile phone consultants were consistently empty the entire time. Clearly kids don’t see it as a viable career alternative.

3. Have a strategy.

There’s no right way to tour the place, but depending on your child’s age/preferences, they’ll adopt a different strategy in their activity choices.

Like if they are all for earning the most money, they’ll want to choose the stations that have the highest payout vs time-spent ratio and instead of spending an hour learning to be a pilot, they might do 3 manual labor stations to maximise their earnings.

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Or if they’re like Finn, who wasn’t big on the whole kidzo-earning bit, they might choose to spend their kidzos on fun stations like the burger-making or to express their artistic side. While Tru and Kirsten were off working hard for some extra dough, he chose to spend 6 kidzos to be all tortured artist at the paint studio.

Kid knows what he wants in life, that’s for sure.

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4. Make your own food and eat it. 

The best way to spend kidzos is at the food-making stations. We usually have to fork out additional cash to buy food during visits to theme parks or playgrounds, but food is already included in the cost of admission to KidZania.

Here, the kids can learn to make food like chicken burgers, wraps and Vitagen, and then eat it so you save on the cost for more overpriced food. Also, you get to see your baby wearing a ridiculous hair net, which FYI, is priceless.

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5. Bring the baby!

Even though all the activities are designed for kids aged 3 and above (that’s when they can follow instructions without a parent present), there’s no need to leave the baby at home because there’s an entire area for toddlers to play in while the big kids are off doing their thing.

Theo had a great time at the baby area with all the toys.

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There are also some stations that allow for some baby participation, like the courier delivery service.

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I couldn’t get a clearer photo of this because my ovaries had spontaneously exploded while watching my 2 little boys delivering packages. True story.

*Bonus tip: You’ll need more than one visit to KidZania.

There’s so much to do that it’s impossible to finish everything in one day. This means that there’s a lot of revisit value before the kids get bored.

And for the best part, KidZania will finally be opening in Singapore come April, so there’s no need to haul the family to KL or Bangkok just for a visit.

travel

The best for last

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Our last stop for the trip was in Los Angeles and there’s a lot to like about LA – Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, In & Out Burger, The Grove, the palm trees, the glorious sunshine, spotting famous people…it was the best way to round up a visit to California.

We thought it’d be fun to spend a few nights in Hollywood and what better place to stay at than the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel? It’s where the first Academy Awards was hosted and the hotel has seen guests ranging from Clark Gable to Scarlet Johansson. Later, we found out that it’s also the favourite hangout place of Marilyn Monroe’s ghost, so that was um, interesting.

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LA is the sort of place that feels larger than life. If you consume enough movies and TV, you’d recognise many of the places and it’s fun to go on a spot the scene tour around the city.

So here are all our favourite things to do in LA.

The Grove + The Original Farmer’s Market.

The Grove is an excellent way to spend an afternoon even if you’re not of the hardcore shopping variety. I was sort of expecting it to be like an outlet mall style setup but this was one of the prettiest outdoor shopping experiences I’ve had. The whole place was decked out all gorgeous in christmas cheer and everything was so festive. Best of all, when night time came around, the streets would be covered in tiny flakes of fake snow and the kids understandably went nuts.

My kids aren’t fond of shopping but they had so much fun here they were all “you guys should do more shopping!” just so they wouldn’t have to leave.

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Venice Beach + Canals Walkway

LA isn’t typically known as a beach destination but we discovered that it has some very spectacular beaches. Such as Venice Beach, which is already gorgeous on its own, but it gets even more street cred when you realise that’s where a very buff, shirtless Edward Norton shot hoops on American History X.

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Steps away from Venice boardwalk is a charming little place called the Venice Canals Walkway. It’s a row of houses along a little canal with picturesque bridges and boats.

Kirsten was like “you mean people live here in these houses?? Like everyday they stay here??? Why don’t we bring baby Theo here to LA and then we can all stay here, that’s a great idea right?”

Not a bad pitch by a 7-year-old.

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Santa Monica Pier + Boulevard

I have a soft spot for Santa Monica because one of the best memories we have of our honeymoon was walking down Santa Monica Boulevard listening to a guy play this mesmerising tune on the saxophone. I still remember his name – Sha Shaty. We were there for a long time, just sitting by the sidewalk and holding hands, being all newlyweddy and in love.

Over the past 8 years, in good and bad times, we’ll still often talk about that time we were in Santa Monica listening to Sha Shaty on the saxophone. It was like our moment. That’s definitely core memory material, and one of the very best ones.

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Well, that just about wraps up this little travel series, thanks for sticking around. Regular programming will resume shortly!

travel

Oh Disney!

So you know there’s no way we’d take a trip to Southern California and not spend some time in Disneyland right? That possibility does not exist in this universe or any other universe.

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We had 4 days to spend in Disneyland, which might seem like a lot of days to cover 2 parks but it really isn’t. Especially so during christmastime where crowds are heavier than usual and park touring becomes less efficient. 4 days gave us time to cover everything we wanted to without hustling like maniacs around the park. *But if you’re visiting during low season, 3 days should be just about right.

Yeah, first things first. Here are all the things you need to know about visiting SoCal Disneyland.

1. Buy park hopper tickets. 

Your mileage may vary on park hopper tickets at Disney World and you’d have an equally nice time without them, but at Disneyland, get them park hoppers! The 2 parks are located just steps away from each other and getting from park to park takes you 5 minutes tops. In fact, you can think of it as one big park separated by 2 turnstiles.

This allows you to get concurrent fast passes for both parks without waiting for the 2 hour window and more fastpasses = YES.

2. Stay offsite. 

Again, there’s no real need to stay at a Disney hotel in Anaheim, unlike in Disney World. The price vs perks ratio just isn’t justified in this case, plus there are so many other decent (and very cheap) accommodation options just directly opposite the park.

3. Allow more than 1 day to watch the fireworks. 

I could watch the fireworks everyday for the rest of my life, but that’s not really the reason for this. As it turns out, there’s a pretty good chance of the fireworks being cancelled on days with unfavourable wind conditions. This happened 2 out of 4 days we were there, which was such a bummer. It was a good thing we managed to catch it at least once on the second night.

We were hoping to watch it again on our last night at the park but it got cancelled minutes before showtime. :( So make allowance for this to happen.

4. Sleep in and stay late. 

We tried a new strategy this time around – to sleep in and stay till park closing, which in this case was at midnight every night. This probably wouldn’t work as well during the lighter months where park closing is at 10pm, but with the parks open till midnight, we managed to do way more rides during the last 3 hours than the rest of the day combined.

The queues for most of the rides were in the region of 40-60 minutes throughout the day, so we took it easy with fastpasses and shows during daylight hours. And then the fun really started after the fireworks, which is the point where most families with sleepy kids would make their way to the exit. Except my kids, who are commando trained and extremely dedicated to their enjoyment of rides.

This is when all the rides (besides Radiator Springs Racers + Hyperspace Mountain) dwindled to 5 minute wait times. All of Fantasyland was so nice and quiet, it was such a treat to have the whole place to ourselves. Like Dumbo was a walk on and we rode it 8 times in a row without waiting. To do this during the day would have taken 3 hours at least. It’s a Small World? Walk on. Peter Pan’s Flight? Walk on. King Arthur’s Carousel? Walk on. We got on Storybook Canal Boats and had the entire boat all to ourselves so we had a delightful time chatting with the cast member who decided to break out in song midway though the ride.

One night, it was drizzling and even Toy Story Midway Mania(??!!) was a walk on so we held an epic 7-round smackdown for the highest total score. When the parks are operating at full capacity, the late night hours is where it’s at.

As a by product of our late nights, the kids would be exhausted and sleep in till 10am the next morning so by the time everyone got ready and had brunch, we’d make it into the park like 11.30, just in time for the parades and shows.

The only caveat is that if you intend to get fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers, get there early on one morning before you do the midnight run.

***

As far as the highlights go, I have only 2 words: Cars Land.

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I’m a little late to the Cars Land party but this new addition to the park is a home run. It’s a bazooka fly ball into the stratosphere kind of glorious home run by the Disney Imagineers.

I’ll preface this by saying that Cars (the original) is one of my top 3 Disney/Pixar movies. It used to be the top until it got taken over by Inside Out and Frozen, but I still have a very soft spot for the magic of old town route 66.

The theming here is out of this world gorgeous.

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And forget everything you think you know about the best theme park rides. Allow me to introduce you to the best ride in the history of awesome rides: Radiator Springs Racers.

This is by far the best ride I’ve ever been on. It’s kind of like my next favourite ride, Test Track, except much, much, much better. The line for this was consistently over 120 minutes during our entire trip and the fastpasses for this ride is usually distributed by 10 in the morning. The only way to ride this without waiting 2 hours is to hit the park at rope drop and then RUN LIKE YOU’VE NEVER RUN BEFORE TO GET FASTPASSES.

I never ever say this for any other ride, but even if you have to queue for this, it’s worth it.

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The other ride you’d want to check out is Hyperspace Mountain. As it is, Disneyland Anaheim’s version of Space Mountain is far superior to all other versions, and they’ve managed to make it even better by jazzing it up with a Star Wars spin. I didn’t ride it in my pregnant state, but the husband rode it with Tru + Kirsten and they all assured me that it was quite spectacular.

In addition to the rides, one of the surprisingly fun sections was a little nondescript corner called the Wilderness Explorer Camp at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. It’s an area for the kids to earn wilderness explorer badges by completing explorer tasks. My kids seem to have a very bizarre obsession with collecting badges and say what? Wilderness Explorer badges?? With a proper presentation ceremony by Russell??? Are you kidding me I’m never leaving this place!!

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Finn is usually very shy about this sort of thing but he was super excited to volunteer to take his Wilderness Explorer pledge on stage. So adorable.

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And as a special treat at the end of it, they got squashy hugs from Dug and Russell.

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Okayyyy, that’s all from this Disney nut. Over and out.

travel

A day in the snow

It was a 3 and a half hour drive up to Lake Tahoe but the 7-hour detour was so worth it because this.

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And this.

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And this.

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And this.

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I don’t do a lot of quotes but here’s one from Mark Twain, who apparently said that “To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Tahoe.” He’s probably right on that one.

We took a whole bunch of photos and then we stopped because all the photos just felt like they weren’t even close to capturing what we were seeing with our eyes. Also, it’s really hard to hold anything with your frozen stumps in that sort of temperature, much less think about framing and shot angles.

Next time, I’m just going to make the husband wear a gopro on his head – problem solved.

***

We had 2 nights in Tahoe, which factoring in the drive, left us a full day in the snow. 1 day is far too little time to spend up in the mountains if you intend to do any proper skiing, but it was good enough for this trip because I couldn’t snowboard in my pregnant state anyway and Finn is a little young to start ski school. Ideally, 4-5 days would be just about right. We’ll put the kids in ski school and go hit the slopes all day.

For non-skiers, there’s still lots to do in Lake Tahoe, starting with a healthy breakfast. Incidentally, *we had the healthiest breakfast of our entire trip in Tahoe. Like woah, look at this huge pile of green things I cannot even identify.

*Full disclosure: I’m using the term “we” loosely because the husband ate this. I had a delicious bagel with cream cheese. 

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//Oh oh, and snow gear! I did a quick check prior to the trip and it costs $20 per day to rent ski suits for the kids, which is daylight robbery.  I managed to snag these snow bibs + jackets on Amazon during black friday for under $30 each, and it kept them nice and warm in the snow. Plus it’s super cute and I ordered a size up so hopefully it lasts them for another 18 months at least.

I suppose this means more ski trips on the horizon. Or I’ll just make them wear it at home for fun. Kids, every other Thursday is ski suit day. I don’t care that it’s 32 degrees out, just put this on!

***

Whether you ski or not, a trip up the gondola to the snow capped peaks has to be done. I mean, where else are you going to get away with looking like a deranged person in a photo? Okay, tons of places, but here you get a magnificent view too.

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There’s also tubing (super fun according to the kids!), making snow angels (also super fun!), pretend-eating snow cones (NO DON’T ACTUALLY LICK IT, that’s disgusting!), snowball fights (girls team always wins, no hitting girls with snowballs!), and um…do you want to build a snowman? YES, the answer is always yes.

Except that it’s really hard to build a snowman without Elsa’s ice powers. We made a sad-looking lump and then gave up to go lie down in the snow instead.

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In the evening, after a long day in the snow, the husband managed to find the energy to go ice-skating with Tru and Kirsten while Finn and I went back to the room for a nap. We all had fun.

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travel

The best of San Francisco

After our near death experience that was biking across the golden gate bridge, the rest of San Francisco turned out to be very lovely.

In total, we spent 20 days touring California – 5 days in San Francisco, 2 days in Lake Tahoe, a day in Monterey/Carmel, 5 days in Disneyland Anaheim, 3 days in San Diego, and 4 days in Los Angeles. This itinerary broke up the driving into 3-5 hour stretches, which was manageable with 3 kids in the back seat.

I don’t think there’s ever enough time to spend in SF, but 5 days gave us plenty of time to explore the bay area. Here are some of the highlights.

Golden gate bridge + Sausalito (Round 2)

Yeah, we went back across the golden gate bridge to Sausalito again, this time via a cushy uber ride because we know better. It was like visiting a completely different place, with golden light, clear skies and the soft caress of a gentle breeze. The kids were like, “woah, this is so relaxing, but…I think it’s more fun to cycle.”

I don’t know if we should be thrilled or concerned about their decision-making priorities. What have we done to these kids??

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Time passes differently in Sausalito, there’s no rush to be anywhere or do anything. When one is in Sausalito, one takes the time to share an ice cream and really appreciate one’s company.

To be fair, it was a little hard to enjoy Sausalito while suffering from mild PTSD the last round, but being back again reminded me of why this is still one of my favourite places in the world.

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Alcatraz

We were really keen on visiting Alcatraz but by most accounts, it isn’t considered an entirely kid-friendly destination. It’s the kind of place you bring the kids if you want really drive home the message about bad behaviour = go to jail = terrifying nightmares. Which, um, OF COURSE!

I’m kidding. Sort of.

Let’s just say that I’m not above a casual mention of jail time the next time they act up.

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If you’re planning a visit to Alcatraz, I highly recommend the audio tour, which is excellent. It’s the right amount of chilling and captivating, with fantastic background music and interviews with former wardens + inmates. Both Tru and Kirsten were completely into it and they followed the tour intently from start to finish.

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It was all so very Shawshank Redemption in an immersive, experiential sort of way and we all enjoyed it, including Finn who ditched his audio tour and decided it was more fun to dance his way around the block to Jailhouse Rock.  

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Fisherman’s Wharf

Touristy as it is, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 is always a good time, especially with kids.

There’s so much to do – explore the pier, hang out with sunbathing seals, grab a freshly-steamed dungeness crab from street stalls, round it off with a clam chowder in a sourdough bowl at Boudin, watch a magic show, ride the carousel.

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Golden Gate Park

We eventually made it to Golden Gate Park and I’m glad we did because if you asked me right now what my favourite thing to do in San Francisco was, it’d be riding a pedal boat around Stow Lake. And I’m not even the nautical sort – I get horribly seasick on most modes of sea travel, including cruises, ferries, kayaks, boats, canoes, rafts, and windsurfing boards…all except a pedal boat. Such is the nature of my peculiar nautical nausea triggers.

I’m now a pedal boat convert. Give me a pretty lake with some ducks and I’d be riding pedal boats all day.

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After all that relaxing pedalling, we thought it’d be a good idea to end the day with more pedalling on a surrey bike. This turned out to be far less relaxing. It’s like as if we haven’t learnt anything from our previous bike riding experience.

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Why? The idea of a surrey bike looks like so much fun. But don’t fall for it! And throw in 3 small humans worth of weight and it’s like trying to pedal a military three-tonner up a mountain. There’s no gear shift to speak of, just raw human thigh power and I pretty much used up all my reserves during the first 5 metres.

We had barely made it onto the street and I already could not even breathe. I then pretended to do my share of pedalling for the rest of the ride while the husband singlehandedly pedalled all 5 of us around the park very very slowly. We were moving so slowly that an old lady on her walking aid blitzed past us and lapped us twice.

On the plus side, the kids thought it was super fun, even more fun than the paddle boats but then they don’t know anything and they also do not do any of the hard work.

travel

The craziest adventure

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It’s our third day here in San Francisco and it’s already turning out to be an unforgettable trip. SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT, you guys! I’ll try to get as much of it as I can down and we’ll see how far we get.

We started the first day nice and easy, with a late brunch at the Ferry Terminal Farmer’s Market and a stroll along the pier. We were last here 8 years ago on our honeymoon and it felt a little surreal to be back with 3 kids. So much has changed while so much has stayed exactly the same.

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After enough strolling had been done, we hopped on over to Union Square for a little more strolling. Union Square is where it’s at during christmastime. There’s a massive tree, an ice skating rink, street performers, carollers, and a little something known as Winter Walk SF.

Also, there happened to be a Santacon on that very day so we saw hundreds of santas descending upon Union Square all dressed in red + white.

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+++

Day 2 is when things got rapidly out of control. The original plan was to spend the day at Golden Gate Park riding pedal boats but the forecast was all rain and sadness for the entire day so we made new plans to hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf instead. Except that when we got there at about noon, the sky was blue and beautiful, without a single cloud to be seen.

I was all “Hey, the weather looks perfect now, how about let’s rent some bikes to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge? We’ll make our way to Sausalito and ride the ferry back.”

So we did. And I’ll say right now that we’ve done some pretty crazy things over the years but this was by far the craziest of them all.

We picked up 2 bikes – one with a ride-along (for Truett) and another with a baby seat (for Finn) + a trailer (for Kirsten). First of all, on retrospect, this set up is ridiculous. And it’s over 6 miles to haul 3 tiny humans, with 4 daunting slopes uphill. But at that moment, we were like “Yeahhh, this looks like fun and it’s totally doable with our thighs of steel.” I sometimes forget that I’m pregnant and this was clearly one of those times.

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The first five minutes, it was all good. We were cruising along with the wind in our hair and big smiles on our faces. The kids were like “wheee, this is the best day ever!”

Even at the first uphill incline where we all had to get off and push the bikes up (very unglam), everyone was still full of optimism, singing and being all encouraging. “Come on, we can do this!!” they yelled.

The next mile and a half started to get gruelling. The husband was doing all the hard work carrying the 2 small ones along but I was already feeling the exhaustion even with Truett pedalling furiously behind to give me a boost. The singing got gradually softer and nobody was whooping for joy. At some points, I started getting woozy from a lack of blood or oxygen in the brain; not unbearably so, but enough to remind me that I was still very much pregnant.

At the second uphill climb, I could no longer feel my thighs, but I had some adrenaline and sheer determination to keep going.

By the time we got to the third slope, we could see the Golden Gate Bridge just up ahead and it was a magnificent sight. What’s less magnificent is that without much warning, the sky got ominously dark and within minutes, it started pouring. We were stuck with nowhere to take shelter and no raincoats. I considered turning back but we were past the halfway mark and to return would be like that dumb blonde joke where they swam out halfway, got tired and swam back to the starting point.

Thankfully, both Finn and Kirsten could fit in the trailer where it was sheltered and warm. One problem solved. Truett, my rockstar, soldiered on bravely through the rain.

I’ll have you know that this is where I started to question all my choices in life.

Finally, we made it up to the bridge and things got categorically worse. Much, much worse. It was freezing and the wind was so strong that it was like pushing the bike against a very fat sumo wrestler who was just standing there laughing and blocking the way with his enormous ass. I yelled at Tru to hold on to the handlebars with all his might so he wouldn’t get blown off the bridge. He yelled back that he couldn’t because he had lost mobility in his fingers.

The wind was howling, the rain was pelting down hard and fast and I’ve never felt so cold and helpless and miserable and afraid. How about that determination from earlier? There was none left and I just wanted to give up on life.

I felt like Frodo on his trek to Mordor, except Frodo had it easy because he didn’t have 3 cold babies to worry about.

But then, there was the view.

I have no words to adequately describe the view from up there on the bridge. On the left, dark ominous clouds and a layer of thick, terrifying fog that covered the ocean. And on the right, like a light shining out of the foggy darkness was the bay area skyline that takes your breath away.

I don’t know how we got to the end of the bridge but right as we did, the rain stopped, the sky cleared up and it was back to blue everywhere. It was like a special sunshiney Sausalito welcome after a very harrowing ordeal.

We made the final 2 miles to Sausalito in silence, partly because that last stretch was incredibly beautiful and partly because no one could muster the energy for words.

Meanwhile, Finn had fallen asleep snuggled up next to Kirsten in the little trailer. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere for how God takes us through the storms in life, plus it was the most adorable sight to see Kirsten patting her baby’s sleepy head.

This is us having survived the craziest adventure yet.

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