Creepy Crawly Casserole

Last night, I decided to have a little fun with dinner. We both love loaded baked potato anything, because let’s face it, it’s delicious. So while scrolling through the lovely interwebs on my phone, I came across this recipe and decided to make it my own! I present to you Creepy Crawly Casserole just in time for Halloween!

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Ingredients:

 

8-10 medium russet potatoes peeled and cubed

8 pieces of bacon, cooked and chopped

Half a small yellow onion chopped (optional)

One can Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese soup

½ cup of heavy whipping cream

½ cup of shredded cheddar cheese

½ cup of shredded colby jack cheese

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of pepper

4 tablespoons of sour cream

 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Cool time: 15 minutes

 

Process:

 

Once your potatoes are peeled and cubed, bring salted water to boil in a large soup pot. Boil your potatoes for about 15 minutes on high until they are tender and able to be broken with a fork. Drain your potatoes and place them pack in the pot. Add the can of cheddar cheese soup, the cream, and the salt and pepper, stirring the potatoes with your fork until they are smashed (or use a masher and mash them to your desired consistency).

 

Add the onion and ⅔ of your bacon pieces to the potato mixture, and stir gently to thoroughly mix everything. Once everything is well incorporated, press your mixture into a greased 9-inch pie pan, smoothing it out with the back of your spoon as you go. Top with your cheese and remaining bacon pieces.

 

Bake in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes. Once done baking, let it sit for 15 minutes before decorating.

 

Place your sour cream into a ziplock bag and cut a small hole in one of the bottom corners to create a piping bag. Draw a spiderweb with the sour cream and add a decorative (FAKE) spider to the center. Revel in the joy of this super easy master piece which kids, both small and big, will love!

Original recipe found here.

Ozone Falls

Another chance to explore our new surroundings sent us towards Crossville in Cumberland County, Tennessee and to a place called Ozone Falls. Strangely enough this place is located right off of the side of the road.

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Before the water takes it final plunge over the falls a quaint little creek precedes it that is perfect for the little ones to wade around in and explore.    

 

This scenic waterfall, managed by the Tennessee State Parks System, offers an array of hiking and naturalist activities. Ozone Falls is a 43-acre natural area. Ozone Falls plunges 110 feet over a sandstone cap rock into a deep blue, rock-strewn pool.  

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Ozone Fall Creek then disappears underground until it reemerges several feet downstream. Because of its picturesque beauty and easy access, Ozone Falls was selected for scenes for last years live action movie “The Jungle Book”.

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So if you are out and about and want to see some of the natural beauty with a flare of Hollywood thrown in check out Ozone Falls.

Escape Room Date Night

Saturday night was date night. Actually the first one here locally since we moved. The daycare our son attends provided a parents night out opportunity and we took full advantage of it. After getting spruced up, which included taking a bath since it was Saturday after all, we headed out to drop off the boy and were ready for some much needed grown up fun.

 

Dominique had gotten us reservations at Amerigo, a local Italian chain of restaurants. We started out with an appetizer of Cheese Fritters which were really good. I was well pleased with my meal I had the Chicken  Fehttuchini Imperial. Dominique had Chicken Margarite and she said her’s  was delicious, and that the sauce was very light so as to not overpower the dish.

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Cheese Fritters – picture courtesy of Amerigo Italian Restaurant

 

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Chicken Margarite – picture courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

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Chicken Fehttuchini Imperial – picture courtesy of Yelp

With our bellies full we headed to a local escape room. For those not familiar with what that is I will explain. You and a group are ushered into a room where you are given allotted amount of time to gather clues in order to solve a mystery that will enable you to use a code to escape the room. Sorta like Scooby Doo, but without old man Withers dressing up like a monster to scare you away from the old glue factory. The place we went to was called Breakout located in Franklin. They have five rooms which gives you quite a few options and your first mystery to solve, which one to choose. The nominees are “Hostage”, “The Kidnapping”, “Museum Heist”, “Operation: Casino”, and “Island Escape”.

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We chose the kidnapping scenario. So the game master, which is the person that oversees the game via closed circuit tv, explains the scenario which in our case we were to be kidnapped victims. Prior to entering the room we were blindfolded, which takes away one of your senses before even getting in the room already, putting you at a disadvantage, not to mention also being handcuffed to an object you cannot see really gets the adrenaline moving. We were instructed that we could remove the blindfolds once we heard the video begin.

The video starts and we remove the blindfolds to find that we are handcuffed to opposite sides of a bed frame. My first thoughts are, “hmm blindfolds, handcuffs, and someone watching us via closed circuit tv…. are we about to be part of some kind of S & M snuff film?” That turned out not to be the situation, but once the timer started I felt the same anxiety that I am sure any snuff film producer does. My only real contribution to the whole escape process was that I noticed that the bed was on wheels and I discovered the key for the handcuffs hanging innocently on the wall. After freeing ourselves from bondage Dominique set out to solve the mystery that would set us free from our captor. I will not go into any further detail so as to not give away any clues so you too can experience the thrill for yourself. As the time ticked down we were unable to solve all the clues to escape.

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So we failed, but like I told Dominique my plan was that once I got free of the handcuffs I would just subdue the kidnapper when he returned. Dominique was disappointed in not being able to escape, but it being her first time and only my second I felt we had done pretty well. To ease Dominique’s disappointments, the game master did say we were only about four clues away from getting out, and the room we were in had more steps than your average escape room.

All in all, we had a good time and would definitely recommend both Amerigo for dinner and Breakout Games for a fun activity.

Cinders and Ashes! Day out with Thomas!

Jase loves Thomas the train and can name every single character on the show. I think it’s funny how he can easily say “Sir Topham Hat,” but has trouble say things like “please,” or “sorry,” but what can you do?

 

This year we decided to participate in Day out with Thomas at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum. This included various kid activities, a meet and greet with Sir Topham Hat himself, and an actual train ride pulled by the one and only blue engine himself, Thomas.  When we arrived, we were greeted by volunteers taking tickets and handing out “passports” of activites where the kids could get stamps when the visited each one. After all stamps were completed, the kids with filled passports would receive a prize on the way out.

 

The event was really cool, and the activities were geared to kids of various age groups. Jase went directly to the play tent, where he played with some other kids and a Thomas set, something that he could do at home whenever, but, you know, when in Rome I guess.

 

 

After that, I was the lucky one picked to escort him on a mini-train ride, while we waited for our ride with the big guy himself. As we circled around the parking lot a few times, gladly accepting the slight breeze that came with it as it was definitely a warm day outside.

 

 

Once the mini-train ride was completed, we went to some of the other booths to get Jase’s stamps and then it was time to get in line to meet Sir Topham Hat who, might I add, was much bigger than I imagined considering his stature on the show (granted it’s a cartoon, but whatevs).

 

Then, ladies and gentlemen, it was time to get inline for our ride with Thomas! We lined up in for our designated cart, Cart 1 to be exact, and got ready for our 15 minute train ride. This was the real deal, you guys.

 

 

After a short 7 minute ride away from the station, and a short 7 minute ride back to the station, it was time to get our picture with Thomas!!!!!! Guess what? Jase didn’t really get it. He saw Thomas, but when it was time for the picture, he seemed to be a little confused and didn’t actually want to face the camera for the picture. Two year olds, am I right? However, it was still very cool to see a life-size version of the really useful engine.

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Last but not least, there was a petting zoo. Let me tell you, Jase LOVES animals. All kinds. Dogs, birds, cats, cows, sheep, goats, elephants, lions, all of them. This is where we spent the majority of our time at the event.

At one point, he nearly got knocked over by a goat, but he didn’t care. He thought it was awesome.

 

All in all, Day out with Thomas was a fun event. I think Jase was still a little too young for it, but that’s alright. Will we go again sometime? I think so. It happens every year and hits various cities throughout the country. It costs $20 for 2 year olds and up, which is a little on the expensive side if your child might be too young to truly enjoy it.

 

If you’re interested in going, check out the website here for more information:

Day out with Thomas

Adventure Awaits: Mammoth Cave

On one of our weekend adventures we decided to head to Kentucky for a day trip. Who knew that could be possible but given our current location living just outside of Nashville it was doable. Our destination was Mammoth Cave National Park. The cave system is a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky. This is the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles explored. We happen to visit on a weekend that was extremely busy and not doing any research we were left with the only option of a self guided tour. Now having some experience in tours from my stint at Gatorland I figured it was something we could handle. So we paid for the tour, which wasn’t expensive at all, and headed off down the trail where we were met by a park guide that informed us on the do’s and don’ts of cave etiquette. As we made our way into the cave you could immediately feel the temperature drop.

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As we made our way into the cave we traveled down a small corridor that at times was just above my head in height but we soon came into a very large room it was at this point it was obvious were the name Mammoth Cave came from.On the self guided tour you are limited on exploration of the cave system, but it is still very informative with signs and displays along the trek.

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The self guided tour had no time limit, but limits your ability to explore this immense cave system. After exploring in the cave we made our way back to the surface and into the light.IMG_4203

 

From there we continued exploring the area by taking a trail down to the creek. Jase lead the way as we enjoyed the sights and sounds of being outside.

 

The trip down wasn’t so bad but by that time Jason was tired of walking and we had a .8 mile hike back up to reach the car.

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Well we started the trek back to the car and I am here to tell you toting an extra 32 pounds uphill for .8 miles is not my idea of a good time. It turned out not to be so bad and thanks to Dominique’s keen hawk-eye type habits, we actually got to see a doe and its spotted fawn on the hike back.

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There is also an on site hotel and restaurant as well as a camping area. All in all it was a good outing. We recommend going when it’s not so crowded and taking one of the guided tours. I think they even do some at night. Check out their website for more information:

Mammoth Cave

Discovering Balance and Mental Health

Let’s just jump right into this: I’m not going to lie, some days I feel like I am losing my damn mind. Between working full time, going to school for my Master’s, trying to be the best mom and wife I can be, and taking care of myself, it can get overwhelming to say the least. Sometimes I struggle. Does that make me a terrible person? Not at all. However, about a year ago I thought it did, but fortunately I was able to get past that.

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I was talking to someone whom I had known for many years, and I don’t entirely remember the conversation, but one part of it stuck out. This person asked me, “So aside from your son, what makes you smile now-a-days?” I legit couldn’t answer the question. What seemed like such a simple question that (almost) anyone could answer, I was entirely speechless. Holy crap, you guys. Where did I go? Who was I? I knew I was a mom, a wife, an employee, and a student; but who was I as a person or a being?

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This shook me to my core. I had no idea what had happened to the person that I was, or where she went, or how I lost her. I had no clue as to when I left her behind, but I knew I needed to get her back. Plain and simple, I started reflecting on the previous parts of my life as I heard that question play over and over again in my head, and I remembered a time where I was a free-spirited, fun-loving person. In my personal “a-ha” moment, I knew more than anything I need to do this and that it was completely up to me. But how would I get it done? I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone I knew because I didn’t think it would get me anywhere, but I knew I needed someone. So what did I do? I found a therapist near my work and set up a session with her around lunchtime one day so I could be in and out without missing more time than necessary with my job. I needed someone to talk to and to guide me to clarity and inner peace, and she was just around the corner from the office.

 

Therapy-office-design-1024x683The first session, I was nervous. I kept thinking to myself “do I really need therapy? Why is there such a stigma with therapy? Am I wasting my time?” and so many other questions. I was quiet the first session. I didn’t know what to say or how to act. I just kind of sat there and responded to her questions with the shortest answers possible. It seemed like an eternity until finally the hour was up and I was given a homework assignment and a follow-up appointment was scheduled for two weeks later. As I sat in my car, I knew I had made a huge mistake. The mistake wasn’t that I chose to go see a therapist, the mistake was that I had kept my guard up and hid my thoughts, feelings, and concerns inside myself. I didn’t really give her anything to work with and I automatically knew I was hurting myself more than anything else.

 

Two weeks had come and gone and I found myself sitting on that couch again. I didn’t do my homework (whoopsie), but that was because I was avoiding it and wanted to start fresh with this second session. I started off being completely honest and told her I knew that my responses and reactions could have been better, and that I was aware that I needed to give more than what I had. She told me that it was quite alright, and she commended me for taking the first step in general, and for recognizing that I needed to participate. Once we got that out of the way, we started conversing and I slowly opened up more and more with each passing minute. Once the session was over, I felt better, and I was looking forward to my next appointment. I was also finally ready to tackle that homework assignment she gave me from our first meeting, which I did.

 

I saw that therapist for several months while we were still in Orlando. I felt like I was making progress, and her words validated that for me. I was starting to understand that I am so much more than mom-wife-employee-student extraordinaire. I was me, and I wanted to get back to the me that I was so fond of. I realized, thanks to her help, that if I’m not the best I can be, that I won’t be able to be the best mom I can be, or the best wife, or friend, or daughter. Whatever it is. If I don’t take care of myself and my needs, I’ll be going around in circles with this who am I, who I want to be, how do I get there business. And quite frankly, that sounded exhausting.

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Per her recommendations, I started taking time for myself. I became aware that taking time for yourself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. I was hesitant at first about having “Dominique Days,” and my therapist said, “It’s not even a day though, it’s really just a couple of hours.” She encouraged me to go to a movie by myself, take myself out to dinner, go for a drive, whatever. Just do something that I want to do and that it was solely for me. She was right. One or two hours, maybe four if I wanted, didn’t take that much time out of the week and it wouldn’t take away from the duties I felt obligated to. If two hours of doing what I want to do isn’t manageable, then there are different problems that I need to uncover. But you know what? Two hours WAS manageable!!!!!

 

One day, I needed to take a day off of work to run some errands that can typically only be completed from 9-5 Monday through Friday, but you know what I did after that? I went to a movie! It was liberating. I didn’t have to worry about seeing something I didn’t want to see, or getting distracted by anyone or anything. I went to a 12pm movie, by myself, got some snacks and a drink, and just relaxed. It was eye-opening, you guys. After that movie, I felt like I was ready to take on the world all over again. I felt refreshed, and tended to, and that put me in a great mood which I hadn’t experienced in a while. That great mood helped me conquer the day and the rest of the week, which sometimes is all we really need.

 

The moral of the story is, if you lose your balance in life and get out of touch with yourself, you can get it back but it takes work. This stuff isn’t just going to fix itself. You have to put some effort into it, and acknowledging the importance of mental health can be difficult, but once it is acknowledged, and you are ready to take the steps necessary to tend to it and to find your personal balance, it is so worth it.

 

I still work on having “Dominique Days,” or hours for that matter, and it is a game changer. As I continue to get in touch with my old self, I learn something else. So now I’m working on taking the best of the old stuff and mixing it with the new stuff to help me uncover this super-being inside of myself, inside of all of us, that will help me be passionate, free, loving, and happy. Give yourself some time, take up a hobby, do something this is strictly 100% just for you, and the other things will start to fall back into place as you figure out who you are and what makes you smile. Don’t rely on others to take care of you, because only you can truly figure out what you need and what you have to do to make it happen.

 

If you need to find someone to talk to if you’ve lost your balance, resources are available everywhere you look, but start here:

MentalHealth.gov