Family-Friendly Summer Fun in and around Metro Vancouver

Summer has finally arrived after months of gloom. The grey clouds have (mostly) cleared and we’re ready to enjoy Vancouver at its best. You won’t find travel plans filling my summer calendar; I’ve waited months to catch a glimpse of the sun and now that it’s arrived I intend to take full advantage of all the family fun beautiful British Columbia offers. I’ll save my travel budget for February’s dreariness, thank you very much.

The Healthy Family Expo’s Summer Family Fun Guide 2018 is a great resource for local families. Packed full of info on attractions in and near the Metro Vancouver area, it provides a glimpse of what families can expect when they visit Maplewood Farms in North Vancouver, West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, the Britannia Mine Museum in Britannia Beach just south of Squamish, and Destination Cultus Water and Adventure Parks.

We were lucky enough to enjoy each of the five attractions featured in the Summer Family Fun Guide thanks to the Healthy Family Expo. I was a little concerned about the age gap between Grady and Poppy (would Grady at almost-seven enjoy the attractions with Poppy at just two? Would Poppy be able to participate in the fun that Grady had?), but my fears were unfounded. Each of the attractions we visited appealed to a wide age range to include family members of different sizes. The cherry on top of this fun-filled sundae was the music we enjoyed during the drive to our adventures. Jessie Farrell’s new album, Sparkle & Shine, was the soundtrack for our car trips. The nature-inspired tracks are perfect to listen to as we travel to our outdoor adventures. The tunes are catchy and upbeat  and I have found myself humming "Ladybug" at work on more than one occasion (hashtag: mom life / shrug emoji). You can preview and download this album on Apple Music or order the CD online, and also catch Jessie & The Gumboot Kids on CBC Kids!

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Cultus Lake Waterpark has been around as long as I can remember but I’d never been. The Cultus Lake Adventure Park was added in 2014 and together the two form Destination Cultus. As I planned my route online, it looked like quite the trek but once we got on the highway it was smooth sailing and we reached the park in just over an hour. Pro tip: if you park at the Adventure Park (the first exit off the roundabout) you’ll pay more than double the rate of the Water Park lot. It’s closer to the park, and it’s a bit nicer because it’s shaded, but you pay for it. Both parks are welcoming and inclusive of riders of different age groups, from the Honey Pots (think Disneyland’s teapots) to the Runaway Mine Train roller coaster in the Adventure Park and the Tots Castle to the Valley of Fear in the Water Park. Everyone can participate, and everyone can have fun. Make sure you buy your gem bag (available for $5 at all ticket booths in the Adventure Park) and visit the Wilderness Trail to pan for gold and gemstones.

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Maplewood Farm has long been a family favourite. I’ve been taking Grady since he was old enough to toddle after the goats in the goat enclosure. This was Poppy’s first visit and it did not disappoint. My city gal’s mind was blown at every step, from the Shetland ponies where she exclaimed, “yook at dat cow!” to the potbelly pig pen where she shrieked, “yook at dose puppies!” Grady loved the autonomy of interacting with the animals, practicing his patience so the roaming chickens would come close to investigate, and braving the rabbit run all by himself. The highlight is always the goat enclosure where the kids can play with the goats. We camped out under the cherry tree for an hour while Grady fed the goats cherries he picked up off the ground and Poppy tried to boss around a herd of unwilling goats.

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I’ve been driving past the Britannia Mine Museum since I was a little kid driving to Squamish to visit family. Being the first of my siblings to spot the giant mine truck from the highway gave the ultimate road trip bragging rights. Finally being able to visit and cross it off my childhood bucket list was a dream come true. They caution against bringing children younger than three and I have to agree. It wasn’t unsafe to have Poppy there with us but it did hamper our enjoyment a bit. There’s some walking on uneven ground, quite a few steps, some loud noises, and some portions of the tour are in total blackness. She and Grady both loved the panning for gold, though, and Grady learned a lot. Out of all the places we visited, it was the only one where I felt Poppy was maybe a bit too young to participate. I had a silly smile on my face the whole time we were there, even while wrangling a feral toddler. Taking a picture with my kid beside the giant mining truck felt like a full circle moment. Grady’s already talking about visiting for Easter because one of the mine employees told him a dragon visits to leave eggs for the kids in the mine tunnels.

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I hadn’t heard much about the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, which I count as a personal failing seeing as my great uncle was a steam and diesel electric train engineer, and actually drove the Royal Hudson during Expo 86. Steam Train, Dream Train is on heavy rotation in our bedtime story routine so both kids were thrilled to check out the trains. Walking around the elegant Royal Hudson 2860 was exhilarating, not only for the kids. The sheer magnitude of the steam engine and intricate detailing are breathtaking. The WCRHP is interesting and informative for train buffs but manages to be engaging for the little ones as well. The mini ride-on train provides a nice view of the train yard, and the sandpit and wooden train are great for some decompressing playtime after keeping little hands to themselves for so long.

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We're lucky to have so many family-friendly attractions within day-trip distance of Metro Vancouver. It's easy to plan fun adventures that don't require a day of driving, and don't break the bank, meaning your travel fund can overflow into your ice cream fund and everyone wins.

Hands-on Cook-off Contest by Better Together BC

The Hands-on Cook-off Contest is back! Between now and May 16, 2018, any BC resident can submit their video to enter to win some amazing prizes (like $1,000 cash, thankyouverymuch). 

Videos can be submitted in either of two categories:

  • To enter in the Multigenerational category, at least two generations must be involved in the making of the recipe.
  • To enter in the Youth category, at least two youth aged 18 and under must participate in the making of the recipe.

Cooking with my kids is not stress-free, and sometimes it is not even a little bit enjoyable for anyone participating in the cooking or existing in the general vicinity of the cooking. But it's important. I want my kids to grow up with a healthy relationship to food. I want them to appreciate the care and effort that goes into preparing food. I want them to be familiar with different ingredients and different cooking techniques. I want them to feel comfortable and confident in the kitchen.  

My parents never discouraged me from experimenting in the kitchen, even when it resulted in offerings such as a solitary black olive floating in a (white porcelain) bowl of water. They made me feel like I'd created a new and exciting dessert when really what I'd presented them with was a faux turd. My parents gave me the freedom to play with different flavours and made the kitchen a fun place to spend time. It's something that's stuck with me and it's something I want to give to my kids.

If you're a BC resident and you've got a budding chef, head over to Better Together BC to enter the contest, but also to check out the great resources and recipes. Good luck!

 {image: bettertogetherbc.ca} 

{image: bettertogetherbc.ca} 

Fun DIY Gift Sets for Kids

I love putting in the time and effort to find the perfect gift for the people I love. My gift guide has a few items on it for kids (you'll find a little something for everyone on it, so check it out if you need help with your holiday shopping) but I wanted to put together some suggestions for cool, DIY gift sets the little ones in your life are sure to love. Most kids love receiving toys vs educational tools but if you can sneakily combine the two, both the recipients and their parents will be thrilled.

For the Budding Engineer

Encourage their interest in STEM with Learning Resources Playground Engineering & Design.

Finish your gift for the young engineer in your life with a Top Secret notebook where they can keep track of their projects.

For the Aspiring Artist

Craft supplies are always a huge hit in our house (except glitter, don't even get me started on the glitter).

The GoldieBlox Craft-Struction Box encourages tinkering with STEM-based crafts. It's definitely not for the younger crowd but if you've got an elementary school-aged kiddo on your list, this set is golden.

Or build your own kit with fun, colourful craft items like Smart Paper Edger Scissors in different cutting patterns, 

and 500 sheets of colourful construction paper to cut with those fun scissors (why do kids love cutting stuff so much? I don't get it),

and the only acceptable kind of glitter: glitter glue (allll the glitter glue. Seriously, I kind of want this set for myself).

Find a container that has multiple small compartments and fill them with bits and bobs: buttons, sequins, pompoms, googly eyes, whatever you can find that someone could potentially glue onto paper. 

For Your Tiny Scientist

Grady loves "doing science" and I am not science-y. At all. I have as much fun with his science stuff as he does is what I'm saying. It's pure magic for both of us.

Get in the mood to experiment with a great book. Ada Twist, Scientist is written by the same author as Rosie Revere, Engineer and is a great story to encourage curiosity. Pair it with Ada's Twist's Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists for maximum fun.

It's never too early to start promoting safety. Every scientist needs to protect their eyes with safety googles. These kid-sized safety goggles look like the type grownup scientists wear. 

Liquid droppers in kid-friendly sizes are an essential part of science experiments. Set a kid up with the droppers, some plastic beakers, and water coloured with simple food colouring

Jumbo tweezers are excellent for examining items under a giant magnifying glass, or go high-tech with the Zoomy Handheld Digital Microscope.

For Wee Beauticians

My girl Tairalyn put together a DIY Hair Salon for her daughter's birthday because she's a creative genius. 

 {image source: littlemissmama.com}

{image source: littlemissmama.com}

Throw a spray bottle, detangling brush, wide-tooth comb, handheld mirror, and assorted hair flair in a bucket and you're good to go. Just leave the round brushes to the professionals or someone might lose their bangs (shout out to nine-year-old Hillary who had to cut one out of her hair and walked around with a half-inch long fuzz fringe for months). 

 {image source: miasmoccs.com

{image source: miasmoccs.com

For Little Handymen and Handywomen

Safety first! Safety goggles, a kid-sized hard hat, and high visibility gear (that doubles as a warm fleece or raincoat) send the message to your little worker that safety is paramount. 

 {image source: lilworkersafety.ca

{image source: lilworkersafety.ca

 {image source: lilworkersafety.ca}

{image source: lilworkersafety.ca}

A few fun items that encourage learning like a toy tape measure, mini traffic cones, and toolbench will set your little one up for hours of imaginative play.

For the Future Doctor

Who's got a little one fascinated with how bodies work? Learning Resources has a great Pretend and Play Doctor Set that is actually beneficial for parents too if you want to explain doctor's procedures before you take your little one to an appointment.  

Or build your own Boo Boo Clinic like Jen at Mama Papa Bubba did for her daughter.

The First Human Body Encyclopedia makes anatomy accessible for the elementary school crowd. Pair it with the Human Body Model for a visual learning aid.

And if you've recently found yourself in the "where do babies come from?" conversation, What Makes a Baby is a great book for explaining the birds and the bees to little people. Bonus points for being inclusive and mindful that there are different ways to make a baby.

For Mini Animal Lovers

My friend Andrea had a pet adoption-themed birthday party for her daughter and I love the idea of putting together a similar gift. 

This Pretend & Play Animal Hospital is great for little ones to familiarize themselves with the workings of a veterinarian's office. 

When they're ready to actually be the animal doctor, this costume and a stuffed animal to love are the perfect gift for future vets. 

Do you have a go-to DIY gift for kids? Share it in the comments! 

Disclosure: Some links are affiliate links, which means I make a small percentage of the sale if you buy through my link. Affiliate links are a bonus for me but don't influence my opinions. I've not been compensated or paid to include any items in this gift guide. 

Make Weekday Meals Convenient and Stress-Free with HelloFresh

I've told you about my overall love for HelloFresh. I've told you how to hack your HelloFresh box to get yummy leftovers. Now let me tell you about how HelloFresh has eliminated mealtime stress during the week (weekday dinners are peak stress times in our house). 

I love to cook. I love exploring new recipes. Food is a passion of mine. But mid-week, rush in the door after work, scramble to put together a nutritious meal before we have to start the bedtime routine cooking? Is the actual worst. I am not at my best when I'm hungry (Shawn nods vehemently). I get snippy snappy and irritated. It's not a good scene.

HelloFresh has transformed our weekday meals. Before HelloFresh, our go-to on busy nights was ordering pizza. Now, there's no shame in the pizza game. Having a hot, delicious pizza delivered to my door is one of life's greatest joys. But it was becoming less of a treat and more of a habit. An expensive - nutritionally void - habit. 

HelloFresh gives you three meals of either two or four portions, and it works out to be cheaper than eating out for three meals. "But I still have to cook the food?" you ask. Yes, you do have to cook the food. But the ingredients come straight to your door, pre-portioned so all you have to do is open the bags and throw them in the pot as the recipe instructs. It's foolproof. You don't need any special tools or skills; if you can read a recipe, you can rock a HelloFresh box. 

One of the perks we've enjoyed is the ability to control the salt. Takeout can often be too salty but HelloFresh puts the seasoning decisions in your hands. You add the amount of spice you want. You salt to your taste. You follow the recipe but make it your own. Faster than if you picked up the phone and ordered takeout. 

Use code HILLARY40 for 40% off your first box. Try it and see how it can transform weekday meals from stressful and annoying to quick and easy. 

Do you use HelloFresh? What do you love or not love about it?

{Disclosure: I received product in exchange for this review; all opinions stated are my own.}