Wondering what to do in Branson? A list of things to try!

Branson, Let's go

If you still haven’t planned your summer vacation — or you’re in desperate need of a long weekend away — here are some highlights from our recent trip to Branson, Mo. We hope this little tour sparks ideas for activities you might want to try with your family!

The Branson CVB invited us to #ExploreBranson {through the ever-fabulous The Women Bloggers group, headed by Stephanie Buckley} and covered the cost of our hotel — the ritzy Hilton Convention Center — and a variety of the city’s most addictive attractions. We were among various bloggers from a number of states who participated with our families. We had a blast!

Knowing that we’d have two 14 year-old girls on the trip (Shannon’s daughter and a friend), Kristiana and Liz of the CVB chose the perfect itinerary for our family vacation. We started out at the Titanic Museum on Day 1 and ended our three-day trip with a ride on the brand new Branson Ferris Wheel.

Even though we’d been to Branson before, we’d never experienced these attractions. That’s the cool thing about the city: there’s so much to do, you probably missed something when you were there last time or you haven’t tried that new thing. They’re always adding cool attractions. Branson has several additions in the works right now and they sound AWESOME.

santas on snapchat

Santas from the city of Branson’s Snapchat account

Fun aside: We were in Branson during a Santa convention. There were over 800 Santas in the city and we kept experiencing Santa sightings. We saw Santas driving by in vehicles, walking into restaurants and walking beside us on the Branson Landing.

Here are a few quick details about each of the attractions we visited during our stay. (At the end of each description, look for quotes from my 14-year-old daughter her friend. The teenagers sum things up nicely!)

Branson, Day 1:

Titanic Museum

As I said on the nwaMotherlode Facebook page, I was in tears multiple times during our tour of the Titanic Museum. One of the crew members, Kevin, eloquently told the story of the band continuing to play as the ship sank. The musicians wanted to keep spirits up, although they knew things were likely hopeless — and they were doomed. None of the band members survived, but their story certainly did. I was so inspired by their bravery in the face of tragedy.

You know what’s super cool? When you’re in line to enter the museum, you receive a card about a person who was actually aboard the Titanic. You don’t learn whether your person survived or perished until the end of your self-guided tour. I was Genevieve Cassebeer and I was one of the lucky women to survive the tragedy. Genevieve died in New York at age 95.

The museum is great for adults who are fascinated by the Titanic because there are so many exhibits to explore, with detailed descriptions of how events unfolded. But teens and younger children will also appreciate the museum because there are so many interactive exhibits.

We were there for two hours, but could have easily spent more time. There was so much to see and the staff was wonderful. They’re able to tell you little details not found in the exhibits.

The Teen’s Take:

“I’ve never seen the movie and this made me not want to see it because I know I’d cry. I really liked that you got to see whether you lived or died at the end.”

“I liked the interactive exhibits and the artifacts. It was really cool to stick my hand in the water and see how cold it was that night and to stand on the deck to see how steep it got when the Titanic was about to sink.”

Titanic

Visitors are assigned cards about passengers aboard the Titanic

The Haygoods Show 

Honestly, this show blew us away. Again, we had two 14-year-olds with us, so we were a little concerned it might be too folksy for them — or too kiddish. We were so wrong. We really (really!) loved the Haygoods, a group of siblings who can play pretty much any instrument you put in their hands. The youngest, and only sister, could even play the harp like a dream.

The show was a mix of laser lights, great singing, fabulous dance moves and comedic exchanges between the siblings. It’s really high energy. At the end of the show, they bring their mom to say hello. Family-friendly, but edgy is how I’d describe it.

We never thought we’d hear AC/DC on the banjo, but we did. And it was awesome ;)

The shows are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I can’t imagine trying to muster up that kind of energy every night of the week!

The Teen’s Take:

“10 out of 10, would go again. I want to learn how to play the banjo now.”

“The Haygoods show was fun! Even better than I expected.”

Here’s a video that pretty much sums up the Haygoods fun:

Branson, Day 2:

White Water Branson

On a hot summer day, our family is all about a water park! We really enjoyed White Water, especially the Ohana Falls water raft ride. You basically sit in a huge water raft with your peeps and zoom down a big, winding water slide. Expect a few dips! Perfection!

The water park features 2 million gallons of fun rides and attractions, including a HUGE wave pool + a long and winding lazy river (my fave). We felt like we were at the beach.

They also have food and drinks, which I’m all about. Lounging near water while eating yummy food is one of my favorite things, ever. Seriously.

The Teen’s Take:

“Definitely Ohana Falls! The water raft ride was my favorite.”

“Yes, I loved the water raft ride and also the lazy river. Such a fun day!”

Whitewater

Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zip Line

OK, truthfully, when I saw the zip line on our family’s itinerary, I thought: “NO WAY, Parakeet Pete. I’m a chicken!” You might say I’m a teensy bit scared of heights and the parakeet takes you high above the Branson Landing, over Lake Taneycomo.

Linda Peterson, one of Parakeet Pete’s wonderful managers, talked me into facing my fears. I bravely boarded the parakeet seat and felt extremely proud of myself when the ride was over.

The theme of our trip suddenly became: Face your fears. Step out of your comfort zone.

I was literally shaking when I stepped off the parakeet seat, but also exhilarated. Linda was there to ask my honest opinion about the ride and I told her truthfully: It was great! I’m so glad I did it!

I felt completely safe on the ride and was pleased to avoid this huge fear: vomiting from a fast-moving, high rise ride into the lake below.

The Teen’s Take:

“It was a really pretty view!”

“That was one of my favorite parts of our whole trip. It was fun with a dash of adrenaline!”

Parakeet Pete's collage

Parakeet Pete’s Zip-n-Sip

You’ve really got to do this. We loved being high above Branson on the Sky Deck listening to music and watching the sun set over Lake Taneycomo. As the evening grew dark (after a gorgeous sunset!), it was fun to watch people zip up to the Sky Deck from Parakeet Pete’s down below to join us. After having a drink (or dinner — sometimes they have events with a whole meal, too) and visiting for a while, you can zip back down the zip line and continue enjoying Branson Landing. That’s why it’s called the Zip-n-Sip!

The lights on the landing and zip line were beautiful and the view from the deck was fabulous. The band (Durango) was also wonderful.

The Teen’s Take:

“If you want to impress your friends, go and take photos up there. It was lit.”

“The scenery from there was beautiful. The lights were pretty hipster.”

panaramic view

Branson, Day 3

The Track Family Fun Parks

There are four family fun parks throughout Branson and we spent some fun time at #4. We rode the bumper cars, played arcade games and rode go-karts on the 4-story track called Heavy Metal High Rise. A BLAST. There’s also a smaller go-kart  track for the littles, which looked like lots of fun.

The Teen’s Take:

“I liked this place a lot. My need for speed was met (on the go-kart track). I got super competitive, even though I’m usually not. I wanted to pass people. #fastandfurious8″

“I liked the arcade and the bumper cars best.”

Heavy Metal High Rise_ride

Heavy Metal High Rise/Photo credit: The Track Family Fun Parks

 The Branson Ferris Wheel

The new Ferris Wheel is at Family Fun Park #4, but I’m pretty sure you can’t miss it. With more than 16k LED lights, this beauty can be seen for miles — and lights up the night. It was originally at the Navy Pier in Chicago, but now it’s at home in Branson. There are light shows several times in the evenings. Side note: Michael Haygood (of the Haygoods, easy on the eyes) helped design the lights for the Ferris Wheel.

The Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and was actually scarier than the zip line for me, probably because the whole ride is 7 1/2 minutes. I had more time to think about being that high up. However, there was a great view and I felt safe since the gondolas are enclosed.

The Teen’s Take:

“OK, fine, I was too scared to ride it.”

“The Ferris wheel gets an A+”

Ferris Wheel

Branson’s new Ferris wheel is 150 feet tall and lights up the night

The Hilton Convention Center

The Hilton is a beautiful hotel and they treated us very well! Great staff, for sure. It’s 12 stories high, so you can’t miss it if you’re near Branson Landing. Speaking of, we loved being so close to the landing which has tons of shopping, restaurants, bars and activities. Than Landing — plus the city’s downtown — are within walking distance to the hotel, so that kept us from jumping in the car a lot.

The Teen’s Take:

“The shower was great and I liked their shampoo and conditioner. They had a refrigerator for my Sprite and a safe for my art tablet. The room was really pretty.”

“The pool areas were great. They have inside and outside pools, plus a hot tub. The view from our window was cool. The bed was really soft and so were the pillows. The bellman was really nice. They had snacks downstairs if you forgot to bring any.”

Feet pic

We loved relaxing on our soft bed at the Hilton in between activities!

Branson, overall experience

Over breakfast at Clocker’s Cafe downtown, I told the Branson CVB ladies, Kristiana and Liz, that they had chosen the perfect itinerary for my family. And my husband and I told them that it surprised us that we had been to the area before but hadn’t enjoyed these attractions. We love that Branson keeps adding new things to do and works hard to make the city a fun destination full of surprises.

We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back!

The Teen’s Take:

“My brain hurts from all the adrenaline.”

“I stepped out of my comfort zone on this trip and it was so fun!”

I survived

Back at home, enjoying hot tea in my Parakeet Pete’s mug

Mealtime Mama: Fresh strawberry pie for the Fourth of July!

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Happy Fourth of July! This pie is sure to please.

If you’ve got pick-your-own strawberries (or if you picked some up from the store!), below a great pie recipe that our friend Kathleen Villar shared after she and her two kids visited McGarrah’s a few weeks ago. (Kathleen gives full credit to her friend Pam Lewis for the recipe.)

We couldn’t resist using a few of the pics from the Villars’ day at the farm, too! Those kids are so cute.

Strawberry Pie

Kathleen, berriesIngredients:

3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups sugar (It is a SWEET dessert, you might want to reduce the sugar. I used just 1 cup.)
1 1/2 cups water
3 oz box strawberry Jell-O
2 cups sliced strawberries (If the berries are small, it may take a little more. I just filled the pie crust.)

Directions:

  • Pre-bake a 10″ pie shell. (I used a pre-made graham cracker crust. They have pre-made shortbread too!)
  • Line bottom with the sliced strawberries
  • Combine cornstarch, sugar and water in small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add the Jell-O and stir until dissolved. Pour over the strawberries (I didn’t use it all) and refrigerate until set.
  • Serve with whipped cream.

Kathleen's kids, berriesNote from the mamas: This post originally published on nwaMotherlode.com in June 2014. There are three little Villars now!

Summer-Remix4

The best snow cone stands in Northwest Arkansas!

snow cone graphic from printableUPDATED for Summer 2016: We love a sweet, syrupy snow cone on a hot summer day!

snow coneWe rounded up a list of where you can find great snow cones throughout Northwest Arkansas. If you don’t see your favorite snow cone stand on the list, email us and let us know where it is!

Click HERE to download a printer-friendly version of this list. Keep it in your purse or car so you’ll know where to go for an icy treat.

Note: We’ve linked to as many of the businesses below as possible so you can visit their Facebook page to check for hours of operation (and list of flavors) before you visit.

Fayetteville:

Shave the Planet: 3078 N. College Ave. (Next to the Bank of Fayetteville and Hobby Lobby)

Tropical Sno: 464 E. Joyce Blvd. (near TJ Maxx and Best Buy)

Springdale:

Shave the Planet: 1308 N. Thompson (Across from AQ Chicken and Kum&Go)

Shave the Planet: 2940 W. Sunset Ave. (in front of Malco Theater and Harps grocery store)

Lowell:

The Ice Box (formerly Sugar Shack): 1115 N. Dixieland Rd. (in the Golf Mountain parking lot)

Rogers:

The Frozen Coconut: 718 N. 2nd St. (across from Harps, near the Rogers Activity Center)

The Ice Box (formerly Cam’s Mountain Sno): Walnut Rd. (in the Frisco Station Mall parking lot near Hobby Lobby)

Brain Freeze Sno & Whips: 4205 S. Pleasant Crossing Blvd. (in the Burlington parking lot)

Bentonville:

The Chill Zone: 214 NE “A” St. (by the Lawrence Plaza Splash Pad)

Brain Freeze of Bentonville: 200 SW Regional Airport Blvd. (just off Rainbow Curve)

Frozen Tung: 604 Southwest A Street

Kona Ice: Shaved ice truck that travels around Northwest Arkansas (Call for today’s location.)

sno cone slider

New volleyball camps announced at the UofA for beginners and experienced players!

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Mamas, if you have elementary-age kids who are interested in volleyball, there’s a great opportunity this month for them to check out the sport!

And you know what makes this camp even cooler? The brand new volleyball coach at the University of Arkansas, Jason Watson, is teaching them!

Coach Jason, who started as the new UofA volleyball coach in January, will have some help from other university coaches (and former Razorback athletes!) but he’ll be there every day to offer his expert advice. Coach Jason believes in being hands-on during the learning process at camps.

coach jasonThe Jason Watson Volleyball Summer Camp Series will be held on the University of Arkansas campus, which also adds to the cool factor of these camps :)

If you have seasoned volleyball players, there are also camps for them, including a College Experience Camp July 25-27.

Coach Jason’s goal is to provide you with “an intense, focused, and competitive volleyball experience.” He added: “Ultimately, we want you to end better than you start.”

Lil’ Backs camps are perfect for introducing your kids to volleyball. Here are two options for mid-July:

​Lil’ Backs Camp AM
(Intro to Volleyball for Elementary Students)
July 14 – 15, 2016

3rd – 5th Grade

9am – 11:30am

jwvbLil’ Backs Camp PM
(Intro to Volleyball for Elementary Students)
July 14 – 15, 2016

​3rd – 5th Grade

5pm – 7:30pm

Middle School Day Camp
(Introduction to Volleyball for Middle School Students)
July 21 – 23, 2016

6th to 8th Grade

9am – 4pm

Jason Watson quoteServing Clinic
(Fundamentals of the Overhand Serve)
July 16, 2016

5th – 7th Grade

9am – 10:30am

*Open to any and all entrants

For a full list of JWVB camps for beginners and experienced volleyball players, click here!

Beyond the Casserole: How to Take a Meal to Your Sick Friend like a Rock Star

casserole

By Marissa Henley, local cancer survivor and author of Loving Your Friend Through Cancer

In previous posts in this series, we’ve looked at ways to provide emotional support and practical service for a friend with cancer. Close, inner-circle friends will care for most emotional and logistical needs, but those in the outer circles also wonder how they can help.

Even if you aren’t besties with your friend who has cancer, you still have a role to play in her support network.

You have three responsibilities:

1. Pray.

2. Communicate support.

3. Bring food.

If you’ve been an adult for awhile, you’ve probably taken a meal to a new mom. But the needs of women with cancer are different. You’re not dropping in on a smiling (but exhausted) woman cradling a newborn—in fact, you may not see your friend with cancer at all when you deliver a meal. Your friend’s family may be receiving meals for several months, not just a few weeks. She may have strict dietary restrictions or preferences that need to be considered. When you take dinner, you have an opportunity to love your friend well and show your concern.

Here are some ideas for those who want to take a meal like a rock star:

1. Take a family recipe. Ask the patient or someone close to her if they can pass along one of her favorite recipes. If she has small children or picky eaters at home, they will be comforted by familiar foods.

My family received more than 100 meals when I had cancer, and the most memorable was the casserole that my friend Sarah made for us. She asked for one of my go-to recipes. She was willing to cook something that was new to her, but familiar to us. No amount of chemo-induced nausea could keep me from the dinner table that evening!

paper plates2. Bring paper plates. Do you enjoy washing dishes? Your friend doesn’t, either. And she probably doesn’t have the time or energy to finish that chore. She may not have extra money to spend on paper plates. Bring a large package of them with your meal, and you’ll put a smile on her face!

3. Include breakfast, lunch and snack foods. Your friend will be so thankful that you brought dinner. But her family probably wants to eat three (or more) times a day. Consider bringing healthy, ready-to-serve items for breakfast, snacks or school lunches.

Not only will you save her time and energy, you will save her money at the grocery store. When you’re spending money on co-pays and deductibles, lower food expenses are a blessing!

4. Leave your kids at home. If your friend is recovering from surgery or receiving chemo, she needs extra protection from germs. And while I’m sure your children never pick their nose or lick the slide at Chick-fil-a, your friend will benefit from being exposed to as few people as possible. You also want to keep her home calm and quiet in case she’s resting.

Whenever possible, leave your children at home or in the car while you deliver the meal. And if anyone in your home is sick, let your friend know before going to her home.

5. Offer to return dishes. Please take your meal in disposable containers. The last thing she needs right now is to keep everyone’s dishes straight and return them. If you must take a dish you need back, label it with your name and tell her you’ll stop by in a few days to retrieve it.

If you want to go the extra mile, ask if others have left dishes that need to be returned and offer to return them for her. She will appreciate your help with this task!

One last thing to keep in mind: if you are hesitant to take a meal because your cooking skills are like mine (terrible!), consider grabbing a pizza or take-out from their favorite restaurant. When I was sick, some of my husband’s colleagues ordered a pizza for us every Tuesday, and it was my kids’ favorite day of the week! Your thoughtfulness in serving your friend by meeting her family’s basic needs will far outweigh your shortcomings as a chef.

Your friend needs to know she’s loved and supported even more than she needs dinner.

When you meet her need for a hot meal, you also communicate your concern. You let her know she is not forgotten or alone in this fight. So keep taking those casseroles like a rock star until your friend is healthy and standing at her stove again.

Marissa Henley headshotMore about Marissa: Marissa Henley, author of Loving Your Friend Through Cancer, is a follower of Christ, wife, mom, and cancer survivor who writes about faith, friendship, and cancer at www.marissahenley.com. Most days, you’ll find her drinking a latte while shuttling her three kids around in a minivan, wondering if the dog will ever learn to stay and if she’ll ever love cooking as much as her husband loves eating.