Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy New Year!

Catherine's mother, Nancy, is here for a visit. She kindly agreed for a snowshoe trip at Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park. They've had more snow since last weekend, with more than 130 inches of snow still on the ground this season.



So we packed up the car and made the trip to Mt. Rainier. The roads were a bit worse than last week, but with blue skies and sun-drenched snow-covered mountains we couldn't pass it up. We haven't seen the sun in quite some time, so it was nice to get a very big dose of sunshine.



We passed several tents and abandoned campsites on our little trek, which has me really thinking...



We stayed long enough to catch a beautiful sunset, and then made the drive back down the mountain. No avalanches, no frostbite - all safe and sound!



I'm thinking of taking Ian back up there tomorrow for some more fun in the snow. I won't be able to publish another blog before the New Years, so I'll make this my official Happy New Years wish. Have fun everybody, and best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!

Marc

Monday, December 24, 2012

Skinner Family Christmas Letter


Well, the Christmas tree is up with the decorations and lights are on. We're ready for a happy time together to this Christmas season, and to wind down the year. And what a year it has been! I won't bore you with all of the details - for that you can read the other 70+ blog posts that Catherine and I have published here.

Suffice it to say, we've been busy. I've had a wonderful time exploring the National Park System, with day trips and camping trips in the Olympic NP, Mt. Rainier NP, Grand Teton NP, Yellowstone NP, Glacier NP, and Crater Lake NP, as well as the backcountry surrounding Mt. St. Helens. I've had so much fun exploring the wild places around here on foot and through my camera lens, alone and with my family. At work I've transitioned through a couple of jobs, as some of you are aware. I started out the year with a physical therapy student at the clinic I was running, which was both challenging and rewarding. In June I took over as the sole physical therapist providing care for every ROTC cadet nationwide, which brought me much closer to my athletic training roots. That was a long and busy 3 months, at the end of which I took a much needed vacation "out west" (as I like to say, though that would put me squarely in the Pacific Ocean from here!) to go see some of our most picturesque parks. Catherine and the kids were absolute champs, spending 3 cold (COLD in Yellowstone) nights in a tent at Grand Teton NP, Yellowstone NP, and Glacier NP. Glacier was my favorite for sheer remote and rugged beauty. We spent Ian's birthday there, and he asked if we could go back for his birthday next year. YES! Once back to work, I started to do inpatient care, which is wildly different and way outside of my comfort zone from what I've done for the past 10 years. To finish out this year I am assuming the duties as Assistant Chief of Physical Therapy. Oh yeah, and I graduated from Temple University with my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree this May. To top everything off a couple of weeks ago I found out I was selected for promotion to Major, which is kind of a big deal. When I look back on the year, I see that I have been so richly blessed that it leaves me practically speechless. I pray for a happy and blessed Christmas with you and yours, and a wonderful and prosperous New Year! Marc





This year has flown by.  I've been driving the kids all over our small part of WA state.  We started out the year with swim lessons, cub scouts, and ballet, and now no swimming, but still ballet, cub scouts and a couple of other therapies.  Thankfully both kids are comfortable swimming on their own in a pool now.  Seems as if everyone else has already shared about our travels this year.  Hmmm.  So, what else did I do this year?  I taught 2 cooking classes this past year at the local cooking school in Olympia.  One was an English Tea class in the spring, and another was a Cuban Cuisine class at the end of summer.  I also did some quick and easy recipe demos at the Taste of Christmas open house they do. 
I also got together with a friend and did A LOT of canning as soon as school started.  We did pickles, salsa, peaches, honey spiced peaches, chutney, pickled beets, jam, and ketchup.  We also froze a big batch of roasted marinara sauce and applesauce.  Since that worked out so well we combined efforts on a few homemade mixes for Christmas: Oatmeal Pancake Mix, Beer Bread, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Hot Chocolate Mix.  I also have enjoyed trying out numerous new recipes on the family this year.  A couple of the keepers have been a Cooking Light recipe for a corn chowder with squash, and a crock pot recipe for pork chops with mustard sauce that I serve with quinoa.  I've gotten away from posting to my cooking blog when my camera died, but I'm hoping to get back into it.  It was fun sharing some of the new things I was trying with everyone. If you're interested my blog is: www.catalinamuse.blogspot.com.
One other big thing I started this fall was working on taking better care of myself.  I have been doing pilates once a week (where we are working on the reformer and other challenging apparatuses), and water aerobics (once a week in the deep water, and trying to get there a second time each week for working in the shallower pool).  I also have been starting to balance what I eat better.  So far, I've lost 8 lbs.  Hoping to get to 10 lbs by the end of the year, but not sure I'll make it. I'm happy I have a starting point to continue from next year.   Hopefully I'll have a bigger weight loss to post about next year! 
Hope you all have had a fabulous year and a very Happy Christmas!  Catherine





I had a good year. I got to go to Disneyland and I had a lot of fun. My favorite part of Disneyland was the Star Wars Jedi Training Academy. In Miami I got to go over next door to Mrs. Johnson's house and we went swimming in her pool. And after we were done we got to have ice cream. We went to three National Parks and we each got a Ranger Badge. To earn ours in Yellowstone, we had to see Beehive Geyser while it was going off.  We went to Mt. Rainier and I got a book. I am thankful that I got to have a fun time with my family. Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Ian




In the summer I went to lots of National Parks and I got lots of tokens. Last year I was in kindergarten. And when summer came, I graduated. Now I am in the first grade! In summer it was Ian's birthday and in January it was my birthday. And I am six and a half, on January seventh I will turn seven. In Disneyland there was a hotel and there was a giant pool and there were lots of rides. I met Tinkerbell and her sister, Periwinkle. My dance teacher is really fun! I am thankful for my family and that I got to meet Tinkerbell and I got to go to Disneyland. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and have lots of fun. Leah




Merry Christmas everybody! Marc, Catherine, Ian, and Leah

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sledding Trip to Mt. Rainier

For the past two days I've made the trip up to Paradise at Mt. Rainier for some winter fun. I took both Ian and Leah Saturday, and only Ian decided to come with me Sunday. Leah got a bit too cold Saturday, and she had no desire to revisit that experience. Saturday we did a bit of snowshoeing, and then the kids went sledding. While we have absolutely no snow here, they've had a boatload of snow so far this year at Mt. Rainier. There was just over 10 feet of snow sitting on the ground, according to the Park, compared to just over five feet this time last year. 



The Park works overtime to keep the road from Longmire to Paradise open with all that snow. I bought some tire chains that make the portion above Longmire a snap, though the height of the snow as you get closer to Paradise just towers over the car - easily 10 feet, if not more in places.


video


Both kids enjoyed the snowshoeing, but they were both most eager to go sledding. I walked them up the little hill and then ran back down to get their videos. The walkway was pretty well packed, but the walls built up to contain the sleds were not. I postholed up to my hip on one step! Luckily I was able to dig myself out in time for Leah to go zinging by.

video


Then it was Ian's turn. As usual, he didn't want to give it a go at first. But then it was like pulling teeth to get him off that mountain! I'm glad they both had fun, though.



After sledding, I thought we'd go for a short walk. Both kids agreed, but by the time we had left the parking lot the wind had picked up and Leah was complaining about being cold. So that walk wasn't very far.



Then today, since the one day snowshoe rental is actually 2.5 days in length AND I had the time, Ian and I went back to Mt. Rainier to do some more snowshoeing. We had a very nice time once again at Paradise.



It was as close to a perfect winter wonderland as I think I'll ever find.

Marc

Friday, December 21, 2012

Enjoying Christmas Break

I've been enjoying my half-day schedule this past week (and eagerly anticipate a long weekend followed by another half-week of half-days; sometimes life is tough). The kids started their Christmas break too, so today once I saw the sun shining I took the kids for a walk. No sooner did we hit the woods though, than the sun decided to hide behind some clouds.


It was a bit chilly, but still nice to get some fresh air. We had some snow earlier this week and are planning another trip to Mt. Rainier tomorrow - this time with snow shoes! The mountains have had at least three storms dump 1-3 feet of fresh snow each since our last trip their two weeks ago. Can't wait!

Have a wonderful day everybody, and enjoy the last of the Mayan Nonpocalypse!

Marc

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter fun at Mt. Rainier National Park

I don't know why I haven't made the effort to get to Mt. Rainier in the winter before, but I'll definitely be spending some time their this winter! I dragged the kids along for the fun. The plan was to drive to Longmire in the southwest corner of the park and then put on the tire chains for the drive to Paradise. Someone had had an accident so the road was closed to up-going traffic. We made the best of the situation though, and walked around the Longmire area.

To be clear, we haven't seen any snow where we live this year. We've been struggling into the upper 40's/low 50's for our highs. But the mountains have had over three feet of snow this past week, on top of all of the snow they had in October and November. So the time was right.

We packed all sorts of warm gear, to including a couple of thermoses of hot chocolate, into the car and made the drive to Mt. Rainier National Park. Once we got closer to the mountains, we could see snow covering the trees up at elevation. There was snow on the ground just a mile or two outside the park gates. By the time we made the drive up to Longmire there was a fair bit of snow standing on the ground.



Ian and Leah were most interested in a snowball fight. I caught the precise moment that Leah got Ian right in the head. Don't worry, it was a total fluke and Ian wasn't hurt in the slightest. In fact he belly laughed!



We walked the "Trail of the Shadows". Snowshoes weren't necessary, as many people had walked the path and we had very firm snow. Just a bit off the trail though and I would posthole a good bit.



I didn't realize there were thermal features at Mt. Rainier National Park. There was a pond of sorts that the trail wandered around with many small bubbling springs. Very pretty streams emptied into it, and there was a cabin at the far end.



When we got back to the parking lot the traffic accident still had not been cleared, so the kids wanted to have another snowball fight. That was pretty much the highlight of their day, the multiple snowball fights. Here I caught Ian getting Leah.



The accident was finally cleared a little after 3 pm, so we took off up the mountain. Even with tire chains we didn't make it up before it started to get dark. We had planned on sledding at Paradise, but it didn't work out this time.



There is always another week though. We'll try again in a couple of weeks. Have a wonderful day everybody!

Marc

Monday, November 26, 2012

Post Thanksgiving Hijinks

Sunday we had the unthinkable: sunshine!

So rather than sit around the house, I thought we'd enjoy a walk at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge to get a bit of vitamin D. And we sure did.

We took the short loop to watch the ducks, mostly mallards. At the Nisqually overlook, Ian and Leah took their turns looking through the binoculars.



There were two of the binoculars, but this one sits up a bit higher and has a better view over the low lying brush near the river.



The kids enjoyed trying to spot the ducks and geese from the Twin Barns overlook, and they actually shared pretty decently.



Have a wonderful day everybody!

Marc

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Happy Belated Thanksgiving Everybody!

Here's hoping that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, full of good food and good family!

We had a quiet kind of day, with Catherine spending most all of the morning cooking. The kids were beside themselves since we had somebody come over. They put on a speech (Leah) and a magic show (Ian). All in all, I think we had a very nice time. And no shopping for us on Thanksgiving!

Neither on Black Friday - though I do think Catherine snagged some online deals.

So today after wasting a good amount of time on the PlayStation, I finally got off my butt and took some more photos of the kids. First it was Leah, then after a bike ride it was Ian's turn.



We did the laughing and smiling faces first.



Then the funny faces followed. Leah had put just about every different hair clip/barrette on her head which made me have to take her photograph. She even wore them on our bike ride.



Ian didn't get to go on the bike ride, but he did get in some exercise too. However, instead of a silly face he decided to mean mug for me.


Have a wonderful day everybody!

Marc

Sunday, November 11, 2012

News from the Skinners in the PNW

Nothing much new to note here. Catherine and I got to celebrate our Anniversary yesterday. We went to Seattle to watch Wicked, which was fun and funny - much better than the book! Afterwards we had a very nice dinner, and then thanks to the kind folks at the MWR we got to go see (hear, really) the Seattle Symphony play Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, which was amazing. All in all, a very wonderful Anniversary gift to ourselves.

Sunday was a lazy day at home for me and the kids. Ian and I did some Cub Scout work while Leah practiced some reading. While Ian and I were doing our Cub Scout thing, Leah lost a tooth!



So I grabbed my flashes and camera so I could snap some photos of both kids. No, Leah does not play hockey ;)



Cheers,

Marc

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

You don't want to take any more photos...



What a stinkers! That was an actual quote from my son Jedi. Good thing I was done taking photos when I was.

Both kids were excited, to say the least, that Halloween had finally come. Ian was a Jedi, complete with lightsaber. Leah originally didn't want to be a princess, then she saw the outfit and was squealing with glee at the thought.



And a final parting photo (I'm immune to the Jedi mind trick) of the kids right before they went to collect their loot.



Have a wonderful day everybody! Cheers,

Marc

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rialto and Second Beach, Camping in the Olympic National Park

After my last camping trip a couple of weeks ago to Mt. Rainier, I promised the kids that we'd go camping after our Disney Vacation. That weekend was this past weekend. Some people would call us me crazy for taking the kids camping in a rainforest during the rainy season in late October. You'd be right.

Luckily, I came prepared. Our first day we drove past Forks, Washington out to Mora at Rialto Beach on the Pacific Ocean. We set up our campsite, which consisted of our 10x10 canopy to cover the tent, as well as a ground cloth to go underneath the tent. Then the tent with a rainfly. Even with all that, it was still a bit damp. The tent was small enough for me, Ian, and Leah that it stayed cozy the whole night. It was definitely warmer than the first night that Ian and I spent here much earlier this year.



We tried to make it out to Hole in the Wall, about a mile north of the parking lot at Rialto Beach. The river that Ian and I log walked and jumped over earlier this year had completely re-routed itself. It looks like a massive storm shoved a ton of trees and sand up onto the beach causing the river to move. I couldn't find any way to cross, and Leah didn't want me to take my shoes off to carry her across the river. So we got skunked.



The next morning, after a fun breakfast of hot cocoa and pancakes, we made our way to Second Beach just south of La Push. It was a fairly easy walk through the forest and then down to the beach. The beach itself was very pretty, with the various sea stacks making up "Giant's Graveyard".

Finally, during the walk in, we passed this giant tree. The exposure was pretty tough, so I've juiced it up a bit so you can see it better (I hope) in photoshop. The kids spontaneously shouted about the Whomping Willow as we came upon it, and asked if I would take their photo next to it. Luckily this particular tree was neither a willow, nor whomping. So this one is for all you Harry Potter fans!



Cheers,

Marc

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Columbia River Gorge

Christina's trip is rapidly coming to an end. She basically has all day tomorrow with us, then she flies back home. There are so many different outdoorsy paradises here, that with unlimited time is very hard to decide where to go and what to see. Do I want to see the wild Pacific Ocean, or a temperate rainforest? Mountains? How about waterfalls?

Well, when forced to decide, Christina chose waterfalls. So off to the Columbia River Gorge we went.


There are already plans underfoot for a return trip next summer, where a trip to the Olympic Mountains, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier will be a much better prospect. The mountain passes have already had several inches of snow this week, which means that the higher elevations had even more. It would have been an even colder trip had Christina decided on either of the other options.

We've had a very nice time with Christina here, and I'm pretty sure she has had a nice time too. Cheers,

Marc

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Leavenworth Oktoberfest

So after a few short days home from our Disneyland vacation, we drove up to Seattle to pick up Catherine's sister, Christina, and drove out to Leavenworth, WA for their Oktoberfest festivities. I'm looking forward to a bit of relaxation after a bit more than two weeks of go-go-go!

Someone turned on the rain here, and I'm guessing they won't turn it off for several months. But we didn't let that stop up. The trip to Leavenworth was rainy, and we didn't get to see much fall color. The town of Leavenworth reminded us of many of the smaller towns in Bavaria, Germany. Outside of a candy shop there was this giant stuffed bear that the kids just had to have their photos taken with.



And here is everyone enjoying a slight lull in the human crush.



The rain kept some folks away, but not everyone. This shot below is of the main street, showing the shops all painted up in the Bavarian style.



We took a different way home than we did there, to make sure we saw some nice color. We weren't disappointed!


This is the Wenatchee River from some random pull-out along the way. Cheers,

Marc

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vacation is officially over!

Like the title says, vacation is officially over. Boooo!!!!!

So after Disneyland, we did a day at Knott's Berry Farm just down the road. The next day we headed north to visit some family in San Francisco. Since it is a very long drive from LA to SF, we stopped at Big Sur for the night, staying at a state park cabin. A quick internet search the night before let me figure out that a waterfall that I'd been wanting to photograph was just a couple of miles down the road from where we were staying. Catherine chooses the best places to stay!



The waterfall actually plunges straight into the Pacific Ocean when the tide is up. It is McCay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Beautiful!



The next day we drove to San Francisco and enjoyed a walk around Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square. The Pumpkin Spice Caramel Chocolate squares are to die for. We had a very nice time with Melissa, getting to tour the art gallery where she works and then having a nice dinner.

The following day we made the very long drive from San Francisco to Crater Lake National Park. Despite an early start (we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge at about 8:30 or so) we didn't arrive at the Park until just before sunset. We literally drove straight to the rim for some photographs, and then made our way back down to our cabin for the night. Part of the delay was our own fault, we stopped at Regusci in the Napa Valley to go pick up some of our favorite wine along the way.



The photo above is from sunset and the one below is from a bit after sunrise the next morning. I'd really love to come visit when the rim is cloaked in snow. It would make for an excellent winter camping trip...



Catherine's sister, Christina, is visiting us for the week. I'll have some photos from our Oktoberfest adventure posted in the near future. Cheers,

Marc

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More Disney Fun, Revisited

So I'm going to delete my last post with the same photos since my post was pretty lame!

The kids had a great time at Disney, as you'd expect. They got to ride the rides they wanted (with some cajoling at times), but better than that they got to meet the characters. While they aren't the biggest Mickey Mouse fans, they did thoroughly enjoy getting to meet him and getting their photos taken with him.



Ian had his big day with the Jedi Academy, so Leah deserved a bit of time with her favorite Disney character: Tinkerbell! She got to meet her sister, Periwinkle, too. But Tinkerbell was definitely the highlight of her trip, more so than any of the other princesses.



The Disney photographer was busy with another family for this photo. I ended up taking the photo of another lady and her child, and she kindly took our photo in return.



I tried to take another photo Leah-style, which worked out okay. What can I say? I'm a work in progress!

After three days at Disney we took a day to go visit Knott's Berry Farm. It was ridiculously under-crowded! I waited a maximum of five minutes for each of the major rollercoasters. And I have two new rollercoaster buddies. Leah will ride anything that she can fit on. Ian likes the metal twisting/flipping coasters. Either way, I don't have to ride alone!!!!



At one point in time, after a particularly fun ride, Ian said "I have never felt so alive in my entire life!". That pretty much sums up our Disneyland/Knott's Berry Farm/Southern California adventure.

Cheers,

Marc

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ian's Best Day Ever

Disney really does think of everything. Their attention to the most minute details, and their immersive interaction with kids really make the parks they run quite amazing. 

So everyone that reads this blog is probably pretty aware that Ian is a huge Star Wars fan. Disneyland has a ride here called Star Tours, which Ian loved. Disney also ran a show of sorts called the Jedi Training Academy. That is where the video comes in.

video

They got about 20 kids out of the audience  (much less than half of how many showed up, all chosen at random). Ian just so happened to get picked, much to mine and Catherine's immense relief. Mace Windu (sp?) did all the picking. All the chosen kids go up to the front where they are given their Jedi robes and lightsabers. They then go through some lightsaber training, when all of a sudden Darth Vader and Darth Maul show up and tempt all the young Jedi to turn to the dark side. They all say "no", of course. So then they all have to individually fight either Vader or Maul. Ian got in the Maul line, so that is who he got to fight.

Ian did a great job with his fight. All the training at home really paid off ; )

If you get a chance to speak to Ian, be sure to congratulate him on becoming a real Jedi! Cheers,

Marc

Friday, October 5, 2012

Having fun at Disneyland

Well, the internet was down yesterday when I was going to attempt to blog, so I'm running a bit behind. We've had several early mornings and late evenings while here, trying to make the most of the time that we have here. I have a ton of photos from yesterday and today to go through, as well as some video that I'll be uploading in the next couple of weeks.

Below Ian and Leah are sitting in the comfy chairs provided in the hotel lobby. We'd later go on the spinning tea cup ride which I got spinning to a ridiculous rate. Ian and Leah both wanted more, but Catherine and I were both fine to just let the ride spin itself out without any more assistance from me once I was done.



I tried to take many photos of us on the rides. Just like the last time I tried this, I am nowhere near as good at this as Leah is. I had to cull through a bunch of these to find one with all of us in it. Somehow I am out of focus, but I like the pure joy on Ian's and Leah's faces. To say they've had a blast at Disneyland is a wild understatement.



Cars Land opened up a couple of months ago at Disneyland. The race they have there is a huge hit with the crowds. It was one of the few rides that we did twice, and we won both times. Someone we ran into at the park has a theory that the car with the loudest cheering is the car that wins. Ian and Leah probably won those races all by themselves if they go by volume!

We rode several of the rides at Cars Land, including Luigi's Floating Tires, where I took this Hall of Mirrors-type photo. Only on this one I tried to be a bit more sneaky!



To finish off our first day at Disney, we wondered over to one of the entrances where a kind employee offered to take our picture. This was not the first time, I think it must be a part of the customer service training that all of their employees cast members go through.


We are moving on in our California vacation. Tonight is our last night at Disneyland. Tomorrow we will visit Knotts Berry Farm, where hopefully I can talk Ian or Leah to ride some of the rollercoasters with me. Have a wonderful day everybody!

Cheers,

Marc