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Our little pumpkin is three years old. THREE YEARS OLD! What is it about the number three that just sounds so grown up?! Watching Isla transform into a LITTLE GIRL has been, hands down, the best adventure of our lives! Sure, part of us wishes we could keep Isla in that sweet baby/toddler stage forever, but we absolutely love experiencing each new stage and seeing her develop into a little person. She is bright, sparkly, social, inquisitive, strong and adventurous- and we are just crazy about her!

One of the things we love most about Isla is her strong sense of self. This girl knows what she likes and what she doesn’t. With each new experience she develops interests of her own. As many of you know, one of Isla’s greatest passions is collecting treasures during our walks- rocks, twigs, leaves, shells- you name it! During a hike this summer, Isla asked if she could have a collection birthday party. How cool is that?! We started discussing ideas while we hiked and had so much fun planning together. This past weekend we celebrated our sweet Isla’s 3rd birthday with a collection themed party!

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Once we decided on the collection theme for Isla’s birthday party we began to save the little treasures she collected on her walk so that we could use them as decor. Normally we just photograph her collections and leave them out in nature (you can see many of her collections on Instagram #islacollectsthings). My wonderful mom helped me decorate for the party. She has such a fantastic eye for design and helped me bring my vision of an eclectic and organic setting to life. We displayed Isla’s collections by grouping similar items in jars and also sprinkled them around the table tops.

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Tucked amongst all of Isla’s treasures were framed photos of her collecting. The images were taken all around the globe in settings that varied from the beaches of the Pacific Northwest to the jungles of Borneo. We used a few frames we had around the house and thrifted the rest. Displaying these images at Isla’s party was such a fun little way to showcase her passion for collecting everywhere she goes.
islacollectionpartyblog0007islacollectionpartyblog0008islacollectionpartyblog0009islacollectionpartyblog0010In addition to the actual items we displayed, we hung these beautiful prints of Isla’s collections as additional decor. The above image alone shows Isla’s treasures from Portland, the Oregon Coast, Thailand, Dubai and Borneo! It was so fun to talk with our guests about where in the world Isla made each collection, and such a wonderful way to relive our adventures and get us excited for our upcoming travels!islacollectionpartyblog0011islacollectionpartyblog0012

Isla’s collections even served as the inspiration for the lunch we served at her party: leaves, acorns, sticks and twigs! We made different sandwiches and cut the out using leaf and acorn cookie cutters, sliced veggies into long sticks and served them with ranch dip, used skinny pretzel sticks as twigs, and then made up a Parmesan ranch snack mix and called it “collector crunch”.islacollectionpartyblog0013islacollectionpartyblog0014islacollectionpartyblog0015islacollectionpartyblog0018islacollectionpartyblog0016islacollectionpartyblog0017

Our friend Deanna makes the most wonderful chocolate caramel pretzel sticks, and she whipped up a special batch for Isla’s party, and covered them with candy rocks.islacollectionpartyblog0019

How gorgeous is this collection-inspired cake that JaCiva’s created for us?!?! I stopped by the bakery a few months ago and saw the cutest cake covered in edible geodes and rocks in their display case. It got me thinking about having a cake made, rather than baking something myself. We worked with our wonderful new friend, Laura, from JaCiva’s to develop the concept for the cake, and provided the decorator with several of Isla’s collection pictures as inspiration. After a delicious cake testing, Isla chose the flavors: lemon for one tier and red velvet for the other. All of the decorations on the cake were edible and hand made! We are so happy we decided to splurge on Isla’s cake this year. It was absolutely perfect!
islacollectionpartyblog0020islacollectionpartyblog0021Isla’s reaction to seeing her beautiful cake for the first time was amazing! She was absolutely thrilled, and spent so much time looking at each and every detail.islacollectionpartyblog0022islacollectionpartyblog0023islacollectionpartyblog0024islacollectionpartyblog0025islacollectionpartyblog0026islacollectionpartyblog0027islacollectionpartyblog0028islacollectionpartyblog0029islacollectionpartyblog0030islacollectionpartyblog0031Hehe… the cake was just a little too tempting for one little finger 😉

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We decided to share Isla’s love of collecting with her friends by taking them on a collection walk. We bought these sweet jute totes to hold each all of their treasures, and the kids looked so cute marching down the street with them. Isaac hand lettered each of the darling metal-lined name tags and we attached them with twine.

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Thankfully, the weather during Isla’s party was gorgeous (it has rained almost every other day this month!), and we all enjoyed our “collection walk” around the neighborhood. Isla and her friends had so much fun finding all sorts of treasures. Colorful leaves, moss-covered twigs, bright berries, and seeds of all shapes and sizes filled the kids’ totes.islacollectionpartyblog0036islacollectionpartyblog0037islacollectionpartyblog0038islacollectionpartyblog0039islacollectionpartyblog0040islacollectionpartyblog0041

We paused our collecting a few times to play in the leaves. Hooray for beautiful fall days!islacollectionpartyblog0042islacollectionpartyblog0043islacollectionpartyblog0044

After our walk, the kiddos used their collections to make fall wreaths. We cut rings out of cardboard, spray painted them matte gold and attached a twine loop to the back with a glue gun. We set up a table outside with the cardboard wreath backings and a bunch of bottles of tacky glue. At a nearby table we set up a little glue gun station for attaching heavier items. The table tops were covered with brilliant colors and wonderful textures, and within minutes of gluing and pressing, the kids had created beautiful fall wreaths. islacollectionpartyblog0045islacollectionpartyblog0046islacollectionpartyblog0047islacollectionpartyblog0048islacollectionpartyblog0049islacollectionpartyblog0050islacollectionpartyblog0051We set out the jack-o-lantern bean bag toss game we made for Isla’s 2nd birthday party.islacollectionpartyblog0054As party favors, Isla’s guests got to take home their collection totes and wreaths. We also couldn’t resist sending them home with a little sweet treat. We bought clear rock candy sticks and packaged them in cellophane wrappers, tied with twine and cute a hand-lettered tag that Isaac made. The tags said, “you rock” and “you’re a gem” ’cause we just can’t resist a little nerdy wordplay.

islacollectionpartyblog0053And last but not least, Isla’s very favorite collection of all!!! We feel so fortunate that our sweet girl is surrounded by such wonderful friends and family. We did our best to get a group photo, but anyone who works with little kids knows that gathering them into one spot AND getting them to look in one direction is about as easy as herding cats! 😉

Isla’s 3rd birthday party was such a wonderful celebration, and we are so glad our little collector came up with the perfect theme. She’s already suggesting ideas for her 4th birthday… she is so her mother’s daughter!

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For Jen’s 32nd birthday this week I did 3 things that I normally leave to the skillful hands of my creative wife… baking, image processing, and blogging. Isla and I worked together to bake a delicious, rich, salty, and chocolatey batch of salted caramel brownies. You’ll want to try these tasty little treats, of which I modified from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Foolproof. I kept the camera on hand to document the event and then proceeded to do something I haven’t done in a long while… handle all of the image post processing, including the blog post. For those who follow along with either this family blog and/or our photography business blog, you know her skillful handiwork quite well. I admire the effort and dedication she puts into the entire process, and this little project helped me to further that appreciation for what she does.

For our birthdays this year, we decided that our gift to each other would be the bathroom renovation at our beach cottage, so there would be no need for any more presents. Regardless, I still wanted to do something special for Jen on her birthday. I included Isla in the process and asked her what she wanted to do for mommy for her birthday. Her first idea was to make a “fruit snack cake”. This kiddo usually has fruit snacks on her mind (Annie’s Organic Bunny Snacks, to be specific), so the idea came quickly and naturally. Although I couldn’t quite imagine a bunny fruit snack cake working out well, the idea of baking was a great idea. Every year, Jen bakes the yummiest cupcakes for my birthday. In fact, they are so good that they have ruined all other desserts for me. I’ve become a bit of a dessert snob, especially when it comes to cake. In order for me to sacrifice the calories and sugar intake, it has to be an explosion of richness and flavor. I’m not partaking in the gluttony of American desserts if it’s not going to absolutely blow me away. I owe this snobbery to my wife’s cupcakes. They are that good. So, I had my work cut out for me.

In order to come anywhere near the amazing goodness of Jen’s baking, I had to pull inspiration from a proven source. Pinterest, of course, has a million ideas from thousands of homemade foodie bloggers, but after 10 minutes of scrolling through the beautiful photos and reading the promises of “the best (insert product) you’ll ever have!”, I decided to turn my trust to one of the greats in modern cooking and baking… the lovely Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. With Pinterest at the ready, I often forget about our library of great cookbooks at home with recipes that have been developed and tested by professionals. Isla and I flipped through the baking section and our dessert choice was apparent to both of us almost instantly. After spotting the salted caramel brownies, Isla wanted nothing to do with any other recipe. Given Jen’s undying affection for Salt & Straw’s sea salt with caramel ice cream, this was a no-brainer. As well, it was a delicious, yet simple option for my beginner skills. The extent of my cooking ability includes pancakes from scratch, tacos with a pre-made mix, and a version of spaghetti that is based on whatever is available in the cupboard and spice drawer. This would be new territory.

Here is Ina’s recipe for salted caramel brownies:

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces plus 6 ounces of Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 to 6 ounces good caramel sauce, such as Fran’s
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt, such as Maldon
  • Oven at 350. 9x12x1.5 inch baking pan.

My modifications:
In this family, we are complete suckers for anything with sea salt and chocolate. So, I had to up the infusion of these ingredients in any way possible.

  • I substituted the 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate with this gooey mixture:
    • 2.8 oz bar of Alter Eco’s deep dark sea salt chocolate with 70% cocoa. This bar also happens to be gluten free, non-GMO, and organic.
    • 1 oz unsweetened baker’s chocolate
    • About 2 teaspoons of Trader Joe’s 100% cocoa powder. I put this stuff in our smoothies just about every day, and I love the texture it brings to the mix.
  • Substituted the kosher salt for sea salt
  • I was not able to find the flaked sea salt, so I sprinkled some coarse sea salt on top of the caramel sauce. The flaked sea salt is mainly for decoration, I assume.
  • The caramel sauce was switched out for the glorious whiskey caramel sauce that Jen has used many times before, mainly on cupcakes. Fortunately for me, there was enough leftover from my birthday cupcakes. So, I used that instead of the regular caramel sauce I picked up at the store.
  • Jen can’t have caffeine, so I used decaf coffee. This little splash of instant coffee grounds was a nice touch to the final product. It blends so well with the chocolate.

2016-06-23_00052016-06-23_0006First, it was off to Fred Meyer’s for baking ingredients. Any trip out with my little girl has to start with a coffee date. She loves the Horizon chocolate milk at Starbucks and can’t get to it fast enough when we walk in the doors. She also loves how the milk bursts out of the straw when she squeezes the carton!

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2016-06-23_00152016-06-23_00142016-06-23_00172016-06-23_00192016-06-23_00202016-06-23_00292016-06-23_0030Isla loves to help in the kitchen, and she is eager to do as much as possible. She poured in the ingredients, stirred the mixtures, and smelled the sugar. During the times she was not able to help, she busily worked on her own creation, an apple pie. Her recipe will be released soon. According to Isla, you’re supposed to “put in the oven for 40 degrees.” Noted.

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2016-06-23_0034True to form as an American child, Isla will lick anything with sugar and chocolate on it.

2016-06-23_00412016-06-23_00422016-06-23_00442016-06-23_00452016-06-23_00482016-06-23_00502016-06-23_00532016-06-23_00552016-06-23_0056The final product was absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself. Mommy loved her birthday treat surprise and the brownies were devoured at Jen’s party that night.

Happy birthday to the sweetest wifey and mommy and the world!

Today we celebrate an amazing man whose loving heart, enduring patience and wonderful playfulness enrich our lives each day. Thank you for not only being a dedicated partner in all things, but for making me a mommy to our sparkly little girl. How fortunate she is to grow up with you as her father! Happy Father’s Day, Daddo!

 

Brittany Crawley Hunt - June 19, 2016 - 6:45 pm

Love this!!! Such a cute lucky girl!!!

Beki Pettigrew Whistler - June 20, 2016 - 7:42 pm

I N C R E D I B L E ! So very precious!

We did very little planning ahead while in Borneo. Instead, we would decide how we wanted to spend our day over breakfast each day. The morning after our wonderful visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, we decided to head back to Kota Kinabalu. To break up the 7+ hour drive, we stopped at the Poring Hot Springs. We weren’t interested in the hot springs themselves, as the spring water is literally pumped into little bath tubs in a communal area- which is just not our style.

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A variety of attractions have popped up around the hot springs, however, including a butterfly farm, tropical garden, orchid conservation centre, rafflesia flower site and a forest canopy walk. We thought the canopy walk would offer a fun perspective for viewing Borneo’s lush jungle. The canopy walk closed at 5:00pm and we arrived just after 4:00pm. Coming so late in the day meant that most of the other visitors were already gone or were wrapping up their stay, so we had the canopy walk all to ourselves. This turned out to be a very good thing, as the rickety bridges were pretty scary for our Isla… and I’m not going to lie, they had my heart pounding too!

CanopyWalk0003Isla began to whimper after taking just a few steps on the wobbly canopy walk. By the middle of the first walkway she was in complete hysterics. We assured her everything would be okay and tried to encourage her along. Isla sobbed, while gripping my hand with all her might, and continued to inch forward slowly. Every step we took caused the rickety walkway to lurch in different directions, elevating Isla’s fear… and her volume. Any wildlife viewing opportunities from this unique vantage point were surely obliterated by this point. Finally, we made it across the walkway to the first platform. With four more of these walkways to traverse we knew we had to do something to help our girl conquer her fear. We hugged her and talked to her about what it meant to be brave. We explained that it was okay to be scared, but by pushing through our fears we showed bravery. We told her she was a brave girl. Isla, you can do this! Digging around in our backpack we found some water and a bag of potato chips. We offered a few to Isla to try and take her mind off the scariness of the canopy walk. While I think all our encouragement and bravery pep-talk helped a bit, I am pretty darn certain it was the promise of more potato chips at the each platform that kept her going. Regardless of motivation, it was truly incredible to watch our girl exhibit such bravery. I will never forget the determination on her face as she wobbled across each walkway, or the way she beamed with pride (and relief!) upon completing the canopy walk. The views from the treetops were gorgeous, but watching our sweet girl tackle her fears is the memory I will hold in my heart forever.CanopyWalk0004CanopyWalk0005CanopyWalk0006CanopyWalk0007CanopyWalk0008CanopyWalk0009CanopyWalk0010CanopyWalk0011CanopyWalk0012CanopyWalk0013CanopyWalk0016

Ina Iss - July 2, 2016 - 7:43 am

Amazing! I wouldn’t have thought you could bring a toddler to visit adventurous places like this, but you really proved you can! Any tips on how to encourage kids to go on trips like this, and how to deal when they get cranky?
Cheers,
Ina

Traveling to Borneo to see the orangutans was a dream that had topped my ‘bucket list’ for years. When we were preparing to move abroad back in 2007 and I was busy dreaming of all-things-travel, I discovered programs that allowed you to stay for extended stretches to volunteer with the orangutans. From that moment on I was determined we’d make it to Borneo. While long-term volunteering wasn’t feasible for this particular trip, we were still able to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre; an organization that has been doing wonderful things for the great red apes since 1964. The goal of the centre is to care for injured and orphaned orangutans, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. As the centre receives much of its funding through tourism, educating the public about the plight of these incredible apes has become an additional focus.

The orangutans are free to roam the grounds of the reserve at their leisure, so it is possible to see them just about anywhere. Feeding platforms were constructed among the trees, and twice a day visitors congregate on nearby viewing paths to see if any of the orangutans, enticed by a free meal, will emerge from the surrounding jungle. We stayed at the nearby Sepilok Jungle Resort, and arrived at the orangutan rehabilitation centre just before the first feeding.  Eager tourists were everywhere, but we were still able to secure a spot with a pretty good view. Three young orangutans showed up, and entertained us for a solid half hour, dangling from ropes and bickering over bits of fresh fruit. These playful, inquisitive and agile creatures were absolutely fascinating to watch! We decided to stay at the rehabilitation centre until the second feeding, which turned out to be an excellent decision as most of the tourists from the morning feeding had long-since clambered back into their mini-buses to explore other highlights around Sepilok, and we were among just a handful of viewers in the afternoon. Again, several spirited juvenile orangutans made their way to the feeding platforms, as well as one adult female- what a treat!

We were really pleased to find an organization that is so dedicated to the care and preservation of the orangutans. Ethical animal tourism options can be hard to find, and we appreciated the efforts the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre took to ensure the orangutans remained safe and undisturbed, all while providing us with incredible viewing opportunities.

A few helpful tips for families visiting the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre:

  • Arrive early (at least 30 minutes prior to the feeding times- even earlier in the morning) if you’d like to secure a prime viewing spot.
  • There are far more tourists at the morning feeding, so visit in the afternoon if possible.
  • The grounds (jungle platforms, picnic areas) and facilities (restrooms, cafeteria) are very well kept and easy to navigate with a stroller. While the restroom was in excellent condition, as of our visit in February 2016, there were no changing tables.
  • You are only allowed to carry your camera with you to the feeding platforms, so plan accordingly. It’s usually hot, so drink plenty of water before heading down to the feeding platforms. Lockers are provided for the rest of your belongings.
  • For those carrying SLR cameras, you will need a significant zoom lens for taking photos (we just had our 100mm with us).
  • Cold drinks, snacks, ice cream and lunch options are available at the cafeteria, and are reasonably priced.

 

Sepilok0001Sepilok0002Sepilok0003Sepilok0004Sepilok0005Sepilok0006Sepilok0007Sepilok0008Sepilok0009During the hours between the morning and afternoon feedings, we enjoyed a yummy lunch at the cafeteria and Isla kept herself entertained by collecting and organizing tamarind pods.Sepilok0010Sepilok0011Sepilok0012Sepilok0013

This cheeky little fellow wandered onto a roof so that he could get a better view of all the people.

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Pouring Hot Springs Canopy Walk » Wayfarer Family - June 5, 2016 - 6:12 pm

[…] we wanted to spend our day over breakfast each day. The morning after our wonderful visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, we decided to head back to Kota Kinabalu. To break up the 7+ hour drive, we stopped at the Poring […]