Branson 2017

The Dixie Stampede

It had been almost 6 years since our last visit to Branson,  so we decided to head back to re-visit many of the places that made the last trip so enjoyable.  It was a very smooth flight and only took us a little over 4 hours.

After checking into the Stillwater Resort on Branson’s beautiful Table Rock Lake, we enjoyed an evening at the Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction where we celebrated the American spirit. After a friendly North and South competition, we were brought to our feet singing the Star Spangled Banner and giving thanks to God in our hearts for the land that He has given us. Aside from the show, eating a four-course meal (complete with a whole mini-roasted chicken), all with our hands, was a highlight of the evening. So was the pre-dinner show by “Skeeter & Nugget”. We left there that night singing the words to the song “Long Black Train.” The chorus goes like this: “’Cause there’s victory in the Lord I say. Victory in the lord! Cling to the Father and His holy name, and don’t go riding on that long Black Train.” There’s wisdom in those words.

Silver Dollar City

Day two brought us to Silver Dollar City, an 1880’s theme park with action-packed rides, demonstrations from craftsmen like blacksmith’s and glass blowers, and good old-fashioned entertainment. Us girls braved the Outlaw Run which ranks in as #7 on the list of the World’s Top 50 Wood Coasters. The coaster soars over the Ozark Mountains, but I don’t think any of us paid much attention to the landscape. We were too busy screaming as we dropped 162 feet (more than 16 stories) at 81degrees, went upside down on a 720-foot double barrel roll, and reached top speeds of 68 mph. Some of the thrill rides we did twice, but that one…once was enough!

Runaway Mountain Coaster

After a good night’s sleep digesting Pizza World’s pizza pies, we made our way to Runaway Mountain Coaster for another exciting adventure. None of us knew what a mountain coaster was prior to our arrival, but we soon found out that it is a coaster that uses the lay of the land and changes in elevation to provide a ride around the natural features of an area. In this case, it was around the beautiful Ozarks. It was definitely a new experience for all of us. Each of us got into our own cart and was pulled to the top of a mountainous area by a chain. Once at the top, we got to pick our own thrill levels as we rode down to the bottom on tracks. Kory is the only one who didn’t use his brakes the entire ride down. We had no idea what a thrill-seeker he was! Well, actually, he said he was trying to impress us girls. We told him he already impresses us. Poor guy hurt his back as a result and was stiff for the next 24 hours. Would he do it again? He said he sure would.

Sight & Sound Theater

The afternoon brought us to one of the highlights of our trip, seeing “Moses” at Sight and Sound Theatre. This is the third live show we have seen (after Noah and Joseph), and Lord willing, we will go back to see Samson next year. The Bible comes to life in these shows, and we always leave with a meaningful message, and gratitude that Christ was honored.

On Sunday morning, we attended Friendly Baptist Church that we had visited six years prior. Although Millie, the 95-year-old banjo player, had passed away, we remembered her, and were grateful for the opportunity to worship with other believers outside of our state. The lyrics to one particular song stood out to us. They go like this: “Dig it shallow; dig it deep. It don’t matter much to me. That old grave’s just a hole in the ground.” Well, if you know Christ, those words ring true. That old grave is just a hole in the ground. There is no fear in death when you know you have life in Jesus Christ.

Table Rock Lake

After church, we spent the afternoon cruising around in a pontoon boat on Table Rock Lake. The weather was beautiful, but the water was a wee bit cold this time of year. Katey and Lauren braved the chilly waters and went tubing for a while, and then we spent the remainder of the day laying poolside where we were able to warm up and take some naps. We played dozens of games of Bananagrams in our hotel room throughout the week, enjoyed lots of laughs, and made great memories.

Our last day in Branson found the girls ziplining on over two-miles of zipline cables, soaring seventy feet above the ground. Lauren even rode upside down at one point, and Katey enjoyed the swinging rope bridges. Kory and I sat on rocks and thanked the Lord for the solid rock we stood on. Pun intended! We ended our stay with lunch at the Farmhouse restaurant, trying to convince ourselves that calories don’t count on vacation. Who are we kidding?

Dinner with the Danker Family

Just when you’d think our adventures were over, we ended the trip by flying to Chandler, Oklahoma, to visit the Danker family. What a treat it was to fellowship with them in their home and get to know their family better. Their faith in Jesus inspires us, and we see the fruit that the Lord is working out in their lives. We enjoyed dinner with them at a local Mexican restaurant.

Afterward, Mr. Danker was kind enough to give us the grand tour of his office at Buckventures. He loaded us up with souvenir deer antlers, a turkey call, and plenty of t-shirts and hats! We are so grateful for the fellowship we enjoyed and the generosity they showed us, thank you Danker Family!

The work of His hands

We departed a rainy Oklahoma in the early evening and just as we broke out of the clouds at 14,000 feet, we were awestruck by the majesty of God’s creation. Kory was able to capture this picture but as is usually the case, it doesn’t do justice to what we saw.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
Psalm 19:1

Co-op(eration)

IMG_4835This home-school year has been a lot of fun when it comes to co-op groups. Three families have joined together to provide different educational and social activities that have been a huge hit with our children. We designated every Wednesday of the month for a different activity.

The first Wednesday of the month is an art class; the second Wednesday is sewing, and the third Wednesday of the month is cooking. I don’t know who is having more fun, the girls or me!

IMG_4837

We started our cooking course with a class titled “Preparing for Success in the Kitchen.” They learned all about kitchen first aid, tools and utensils, appliances, the use of knives, cooking terms, common abbreviations, equivalents, and measuring accurately.  Then we got into the hands-on cooking classes: “Quick Breads”, “Yeast Breads”, and “Baking Cakes”. They have made Irish soda bread, banana muffins, biscuits, a sweet buttery bunt cake, and red velvet cake. Now c’mon, who wouldn’t like cooking class!

Our most recent class was “Fruits and Vegetables”. The girls learned how to pick ripe fruits and vegetables and how to properly store and freeze them. They were then able to practice different cuts on a variety of fruits and vegetables, from chopping, dicing, and mincing, to roll-cutting, bias cutting, and julienne.

In addition to learning to prep fruits and vegetables, they learned different cooking methods such as baking, boiling, steaming, roasting, blanching, and stir-frying.

IMG_4829We also made garlic and Parmesan roasted green beans, caramelized onions, and baked apples with brown sugar and butter which they got to enjoy at the end of the class with snicker-doodle ice cream. Yumm!

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’”

(Genesis 1:29).

Praise God for the bountiful harvest that He has supplied!

Family Connections Conference

Family Connections, Mesa

After a successful first run in 2014, the Family Connections team headed on the road again for a 12-week tour across the country. Our family was blessed to be able to host them again this year.

Saturday morning, everyone pitched in to set up chairs and tables, to get the media and music operating, to organize book tables, to warm up food in crockpots for lunch, and to offer praise to God for the work He was doing. Just as the team finished breakfast the guests started arriving.

The Lord brought 53 people for the all-day event. The day was filled with challenging and promising messages to encourage families to stay strong in our Lord Jesus Christ. There was joyful singing, heartfelt prayer, rich fellowship, and lots of food.

Morning Session

There was even a time for the children to have a devotional led by Samuel, Gabriel and Matthew, and then participate in some fun activities outside while the parents had a separate break-out session with David and Priscilla inside. After the event was over, many people gathered in the living room to sing hymns and continue a time of fellowship and spiritual refreshment.

Singing

When the guests left, we gathered in the family room and thanked the Lord for making this event possible. We each went around the room and prayed for whatever the Lord laid on our hearts, which included much praise, thanks, intercession, and supplication. We ended the day with a game of Apples to Apples Bible Edition and much laughter. What a wonderful day!

Sunday morning we were blessed to have Gabriel passionately teach us a lesson from Scripture, and then John and Tia announced that they are going to have another baby. We were all so excited, and a few of us cried tears of joy with Tia. After we returned from church, we had a time of rest, more music, fruitful conversations, and a big volleyball game that lasted until dark!

Hynes Family +1

After a devotional on Monday morning, Priscilla, Tia, Lauren and I made the base mix for mint chocolate chip ice cream and put it in the refrigerator to cool for the day. Then we all packed up and headed out for a place called Tortilla Flat. We stopped along the way to hike and take a few pictures.

Lauren, Priscilla, Davia, Katey, and Kerry

At the bottom of a big cliff, John, David, and Gabriel found a rattlesnake. They didn’t waste any time converting it into a good snake (a dead one…). John even came back with the rattle. It was quite an adventure and young Paul and Samuel didn’t quite know what to make of it all. We spent the latter half of the afternoon at Tortilla Flat where we had lunch. Then all of us hiked up the side of a mountain, while Kory stayed behind to fly the drone and film our adventures. Samuel and Matthew helped those struggling to make it the top—namely the young children. They went out of their way to keep everyone safe and encouraged. Once at the top, we sang “How Great Thou Art” and marveled at God’s creation. It was amazing!

Tortilla Flat

Upon arriving back home after a full day of adventure, most of the group went outside to play volleyball while Kory, John, and I stayed back at the house to make homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream and prepare for a pizza dinner. The Ciampi Family, along with our neighbors, the Reeds, came over as well. The ice cream was a huge hit and all of the children played on the trampoline and the swing in the backyard while the rest of us fellowshipped and had fruitful conversations.

Making Ice Cream

The evening culminated with a magnificent hymn sing, with everyone participating on the piano, viola, violin, harp, harmonica, guitar, and singing. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Hymn Sing

On the last full day of the Family Connections’ team stay, the ladies went out for a time of thrift-store shopping, a leisurely lunch, and pottery painting. The men took the young children and two quads and went to the mountains for a day of riding.

Quad Riding

We reconvened at the house that evening and enjoyed one last meal together at Señor Taco, after which everyone prepared for the departure the following morning. Wednesday was a sad day as we said our “goodbyes”. May God be with you, Family Connections team, until we meet again!

Here is a little video montage of our time together…

BRIGHT Lights Christmas

Caroling at Wal-Mart

This year we were excited to have two other Arizona Bright Lights groups join us for our third-annual Bright Lights Christmas Party.  What a beautiful sight it was to have 34 godly young women joined together to bring honor to the Lord.

We began the evening with prayer, reading Scripture, and some get-to-know-you activities.  Then the girls enjoyed appetizers, cookies, hot chocolate, and lots of candy.   Shortly thereafter, we split into teams and drove to Walmart (with the help of seven mothers and my good husband).  At Walmart we sang Christmas carols at the front entrance of the store, praying that others would hear the gospel message through song.

We then went shopping for children at Sunshine Acres Children’s Home which is a Christian organization that cares for children who are separated from their parents.  The girls were responsible for selecting and purchasing gifts for seven children in need.  The girls also handed out candy canes that had Scripture verses about Jesus Christ attached to them and wished store patrons a “Merry Christmas”.

Once the shopping trip was done, we gathered back at the house and had a time of prayer for the children who would receive these gifts.  The prayers were so sincere and humble that many of us had tears in our eyes.  What a wonderful time of  fellowship we enjoyed!

Cayman Vacation

krn2673This year’s vacation to Grand Cayman Island was voted by our family as the best one yet.  Having just left the island and now on the plane heading home, we are reminiscing about all the exciting adventures we had and the amazing people we met.  We all agree that we would do the exact same trip again, staying in the same place, and scuba diving with the same crew.  We’re hoping to return again next summer, Lord willing.

Day 1 – We arrived on Thursday, July 11th and, after picking up our rental car from Alamo, we drove straight to Tamarind Bay Condos where we stayed during our eight-day vacation.  Condo #7 was just steps from the beach, and the accommodations were  perfect for us.  It had two bedrooms, two baths, a living room, family room, full-sized kitchen, and a screened-in porch overlooking the ocean.  We had a pool just outside our condo as well, and were nestled amidst lush grounds with tropical vegetation and coconut-filled palm trees.  We especially liked the little lizards that sat on rocks lining the pathways, as well as the sand and hermit crabs that meandered about both day and night.  Lauren was particularly enthralled by all the creatures and also by a cat that wandered through the premises.  She took several cat hunts during the course of our stay.

After excitedly checking out all the rooms in the condo, we went straight to the beach to go snorkeling in the crystal clear waters.  The visibility was incredible, and the white sand beaches were fine and soft.  Katie and Lauren flung sand at one another and splashed around in the 84 degree water saying, “This is the best vacation yet”, and it had literally just begun.

The first evening we went out to dinner at Duke’s Steak and Seafood.  Kory had fresh Mahi Mahi, I had Seafood Jambalaya, Katie had chicken strips, and Lauren had what she called “the best steak sandwich ever”.  It was all delicious, but we should have searched around for a more reasonably-priced restaurant before just stopping at the first one that looked good because the bill shocked us when it came.  After dinner, we went back to our condo and attempted to get an early night’s sleep because the following morning the girls were to start the first of their two-day open water certification dives.  However, we stayed up playing many games of Banana Grams.

krn2688Day 2 – At 7:30am, the girls had to be at Ambassador Diver just a few minutes’ walk from our condo. They met Maria, their dive instructor, and immediately took a liking to her.  They began their morning by practicing dive skills in the Comfort Suites pool in preparation for their first ocean dives that afternoon.  Kory and I went grocery shopping at Foster’s Food Fair while the girls were in class so we would be stocked with food for the remainder of our vacation. On our way back, we picked up the girls, had a quick sandwich lunch at the condo, and headed back to the dive shop for an afternoon of diving.  We had to plan afternoon dives rather than morning dives because Lauren isn’t permitted to go below 40 feet at age 10, and the morning dives were all deeper dive sites. So, each of our five days of afternoon diving began at 12:45pm at the dive shop, followed by a bus ride to the boat that was beached nearby. We climbed up some steps right from the shore, received a warm welcome and an introduction to the crew and boat, and then we started preparing our equipment.  I could see the excitement in Katie and Lauren’s eyes from all these “firsts”.  Then it was off to our first dive site called Spanish Bay Reef.  After tying up to the mooring line, Maria began the first open water dive with the girls while Kory and I took a dive on our own. We stayed nearby the girls, however, so we could watch them and so that Kory could take pictures of this momentous occasion. We saw a giant green moray eel here, a lion fish, parrot fish, and many other varieties.

The first dive was a success for the girls and they were both in awe of the underwater world.  Captain Jeff unhooked us from the mooring line and proceeded to our next dive site, Sponge Point. Here we pretty much replicated our first dive, but the girls got to swim with two large turtles and hold an arrow crab.

The first day ended with dinner at Sunshine Grill, a walk along the beach with singing, and an early night to bed. Lauren felt like she was rocking in bed, but the waves didn’t affect the rest of us until after the second or third day of being out on the water.

krn2710Day 3 – This was a big day for the girls because the two dives this day were the ones that would complete their open water dive certifications.  The third and fourth dive sites were called Hepp’s Pipeline and Mitch Miller’s Reef.  Here the girls practiced more underwater skills such as buddy breathing, clearing masks, buoyancy, and ascension and descension.  They did great!  On the boat after the last dive of the day, Maria announced:  “Congratulations!  You’re official scuba divers now”.  We all cheered, took photos, and celebrated with Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Nature Valley Granola Bars, and water.  On these two dives we saw tube sponges, coral, a trumpet fish, yellow tail, schools of angelfish, fairy basslet, tiger fish, and a barracuda.

The evening ended at Yoshi’s Japanese restaurant where we enjoyed fresh sushi. The girls’ dive instructor, Maria, and our really nice and well-trained boat captain and dive master, Jeff, joined us for dinner. It was the celebratory meal that was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Day 4 – We got up early and took a drive along the coastline and went around the entire island in about 1-1/2 hours. You can drive about three-fourths of the way around the island, but that’s as far as the road goes.  We stopped at Rum Point and had jerk fish burgers and hot dogs on the beach. We walked the boardwalk and peered at the fish through the glassy water. On our drive, we could see the ravages left by Hurricane Ivan several years back. Homes had been abandoned to rot, with holes in roofs and walls caved in.  There were “for sale” signs everywhere along the island’s south coast. We also watched crab trying to cross the streets, but evidence on the road showed us that many don’t make it.

krn6111We got back to the condo just in time to get our bathing suits and cover-ups on and head to the dive shop again to take a bus to the boat. This day marked the first official dive days for Katie and Lauren without instructors.  Our first dive site was called Chain Reef. Katie did a great job with Kory. Lauren and I buddied-up, but this dive wasn’t successful for Lauren. She descended to eight feet but couldn’t clear her ears. I tried having her ascend and go down really slowly, but I think she was a little scared and wanted to surface. We went back to the boat and she rested that dive out. The next dive site was called Bolero. Here Lauren decided to brave it out and dive again. This time, however, we all went down the rope with her slowly so she could equalize her ears better. I had to hold back for a few minutes though because, at the last minute while I was putting on my BC, I noticed that the tube connected to my dive computer was leaking air. Dive master Mike was able to give me a loaner computer for this dive so I was able to meet Kory, Katie and Lauren at the bottom of the deep blue sea.  We took some family photos under water, and Kory also got some great shots of the girls as they played around.  We all agree that Dad should send some of his underwater photos to a dive magazine or National Geographic. He’s been gifted in this area, that’s for sure.

After a long day of diving, we came right back to the condo, showered, and were ready to wind down for the night.  The girls went to the beach and walked the “Path of Peace” that Lauren and Katie found.  Kory updated our dive logs and uploaded photos, and I made a spaghetti dinner. We played a few more games of Banana Grams and Farkle after dinner and then turned in for the night.

krn6186Day 5 – The girls slept in this morning while Kory and I went to Divers Supply to get a new hose to attach to my dive computer. We made it a low-key morning while we prepared for another afternoon of diving. After waking around 9am, the girls played on the beach while Kory uploaded his latest dive photos, and I began writing our vacation journal so as not to forget the details.

Our first and second dive sites this afternoon were Royal Palms Ledge and Hammerhead Hole.  We saw a sting ray buried in the sand at the first site and tried to find nurse shark since we heard they often hung out under the ledges in this area.  We didn’t see any, but we saw a puffer fish and we each hovered over our favorite species to observe them more closely.  Kory loves the sponges, I love the bluefish and little goby and benny fish that swim near the sandy bottom and dwell inside of sponges.  Katie and Lauren love swimming with (and touching) the turtles the most.

This evening we were all exhausted from four straight days of diving, so we decided to stay in for dinner.  Kory went to pick up Pizza Hut and after that we went to bed early.

krn6238Day 6 – This morning we left the condo early for a time of shopping.  We started out in the cruise ship/port area.  Lauren bought a t-shirt and bracelet here but most of the shops had touristy souvenirs, so we left here and went to The Westin Hotel to shop at Red Sail Sports.  Here Kory bought a couple of hats for his friends, and Lauren got a beautiful little globe with shells and jewels in it. She’s been treasuring it ever since.  We then stopped at Lauren’s Cafe to see if Lauren could get a t-shirt with her name on it to take home.  Instead, the owner, named Lauren, gave our Lauren a mug with her name on it. We were so appreciate that we decided it was only right to stay for lunch and patron their business. The food was good. We had crab cakes, fish tacos, BBQ chicken and a great berry crepe with cream for dessert.  We were pressed for time and went right back to the condo, got our swimsuits on, and headed out for our last day of diving.  This day’s dive sites were Lonestar Ledge and Killer Puffer Fish. One of the older guys on the boat, Dan, buddied up with us on these dives. He was fairly new to diving, so he stayed close to us all.  It worked out well, but there weren’t a whole lot of new fish to see this day.  Kory, Katie, and Lauren did back flips off the side of the 55-foot dive boat, then we cleaned all our dive equipment back at the dive shop as this was sadly our last dive day.  This evening I made burritos and chili cheese dip back at the condo and we played games until bedtime.

krn2787Day 7 – Dad and Katie went shopping first thing in the morning. She even brought back a book for me called “Reef Fish Identification” as she had overheard me saying that I wanted to learn the names of the underwater life so I can identify all the species. This was such a thoughtful gesture.  While they were shopping, Lauren and I made reservations for the girls to go parasailing that afternoon.  While we waited, we went swimming in the pool and Lauren made up a pool performance with Squeakers the Dolphin.  While we were swimming, rain clouds swarmed over head and it started to pour while we were in the pool.  Although it was fun, we gathered our towels and headed inside until it was time for parasailing.  At noon we gathered at a designated spot on the beach and took a small boat ride to meet up with a larger boat for parasailing.  The weather was nice by then, but the winds were stronger than normal, so the driver of the boat asked if I would be willing to parasail with Katie and Lauren to add more weight and to balance out the end. I didn’t mind, especially since they weren’t going to charge us any more.  The girls loved it and determined that it wasn’t at all scary.  Their favorite part was getting dragged in the ocean right before being hoisted back on the boat.  Lauren’s dream is to fly like Tinker Bell, so this gave here a taste of what it might be like.

Our afternoon started with a boat ride out in the ocean to some popular snorkeling spots.  The rain started to pour just as we were leaving the dock and we were all dripping with rain water.  We had a great time with it though.  Jeff was our boat captain, and was kind enough to allow Lauren to drive the boat. She did a great job, but we bounced around a lot. Hitting the waves at the right angle is a skill she’ll have to practice.  Katie bundled up in a beach towel until we stopped at our first snorkeling site.  The most fun here was having fish swim right past our faces.  If we were fast enough, we could have caught them.

krn6361The second snorkeling site was stunning.  There we saw a moray eel in its  den/cave, a lobster, huge squirrel fish, Queen Angel Fish, yellowtail snapper, and small reefs with a plethora of fish. We picked up anchor after snorkeling there for about 40 minutes and headed to the Sand Bar near Sting Ray City to feed and play with sting rays.  Jeff taught us how to hold pieces of squid just right so the sting rays would pass by our hands and suck up the food with their underbelly mouths. Katie said she ended up dropping the food every time a ray came near her hand because she was afraid that they’d vacuum up her hand.  We also got to hold the sting rays in our arm and kiss their noses if we desired.  I may have been the only one to do this.  The rays were so friendly and i kind of bonded with a large female who kept swimming into my arms.  Lauren enjoyed them, but she had a hard time moving around because they were swimming all around her feet. It definitely takes some getting used to.  Kory was the resident photographer again but the choppy waves made it difficult for him to get steady shots. He desired to get under/over shots but the wind and waves didn’t cooperate.  One the boat ride back to the marina, we saw giant iguana lounging in trees and also sitting on walls in the marshy areas near the docks.

In the van driving back to the dive shop from the boat, Jeff asked us if we wanted to go on a shore night dive.  Although it would have been exciting to do a night dive, we were all so exhausted from five days of diving that we just wanted to shower, get dinner, and head to bed.  We went to Camana Bay and ate dinner at Mizu Asian Bistro.  Katie had chicken fried rice, Kory and I had sushi and fried calamari, and Lauren had an excellent Mongolian Beef and Broccoli dish.

Lauren’s Baptism
This evening, Lauren prepared her heart for her baptism that she chose to take part in on the last day of our vacation. The Holy Spirit had been working in her for several weeks prior, and she announced to Kory earlier that week that she was ready to be baptized.  We rejoiced in her decision!  Here are a few of our pictures…