Get your home extremely made over

So it looks like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was impressed with the get-it-doneness they found in Fayetteville this summer, and perhaps they also noticed all the awesome and deserving military families out there, because they want to make over a home for a military family in time for the holidays…which are really not that far away.

This was posted today on the Dept. of Defense’s Family Matters Blog. Check it out and then nominate your family or another family you know, ASAP!

Family Matters Blog: ‘Extreme Makeover’ Seeks Military Families for Holiday Episode By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2011 – The cast of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” would like to brighten the holidays for a deserving military family this year.
The reality show is seeking nominations for military families in desperate need of a home makeover. The selected family will be featured in an upcoming holiday episode.
“We want to do a holiday-themed episode that’s even bigger and more extreme than ever,” David Shumsky, the show’s casting director, said in an ABC news release. “In order to pull off such a huge venture, we need the support of the entire community. We know that the military communities will come out to help one of their own.”
The popular reality show features Ty Pennington, his design team and a host of volunteers performing a massive home makeover in just seven days. The show focuses on families whose home situation is a severe hindrance to their quality of life, Shumsky explained.
“We really want to help families whose homes present major problems for the family — those big issues that affect the family’s quality of life on a daily basis,” he said. “We want to find deserving people who just don’t have the resources, ability or time to fix those serious issues without our help.
“For this special episode we’d love it if the holiday season had some special significance to the family’s story,” he added. “Maybe they have unique holiday traditions or volunteer in an organization specifically geared toward the season. Ultimately, we want to give this family the best holiday they’ve ever had.”
Families in need of a home makeover or community members who know of a deserving family are welcome to submit nominations. Nominations must include the names and ages of every household member, a description of the major challenges within the home, a short description of the family story, and a contact phone number.
People should also explain why the family is deserving, heroic or a great role model in their community and, if possible, include recent photos of the family and home. People can submit nominations via email to
For more information on how to apply, visit the show’s website at
For more posts like this one, visit AFPS’ Family Matters Blog

Yumbo, Gumbo

It’s not at all traditional — and could possibly get me banned from the state of Louisiana for life — but if you made the day-after-Thanksgiving Turkey Gumbo recipe I wrote about in CityView this month, you’ll be pleased to know that it actually tastes delicious over mashed potatoes. Skip the rice — no need adding more food to your already crowded fridge — just make a little mound of potatoes in your bowl, top it with gumbo, nuke it in the microwave for a minute or two, and stir. Delicious!
And if you didn’t see the recipe, here it is:

Val’s Turkey Gumbo


Roux (see recipe below)

Bones & scraps from your Thanksgiving turkey

2 large yellow onions, diced

1/4 cup finely chopped garlic

3/4 cup chopped celery

1 lb chopped okra (I used frozen)

4 lbs andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces

2 bay leaves

1 bunch thyme

1 spring sage

1/4 cup paprika

2 tbsp cayenne pepper

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup hot sauce (Louisiana, Tabasco, or – the Army’s favorite – Texas Pete, or any other brand)

Coarse salt an ground pepper to taste

File (optional)

Step 1 – Make The Stock

Put the turkey carcass and enough water to cover it in a  very large pot and boil for a few hours to make a stock. Pick the meat off the carcass and pick out the bones and discard.

Step 2 – Make The Roux

3 cups flour

2 3/4 cups vegetable oil

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and add the flour, whisking constantly for about 30 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when it looks like melted chocolate.

Step 3 – Make The Gumbo

Add the roux to the stock and add all remaining ingredients, stirring to mix well. Let it could for about 2 – 3 hours then serve over rice — or mashed potatoes. Freeze any remaining gumbo.



No time for table manners

I admit it — my plan for my kids tomorrow is to try (major emphasis on that word) to get them to eat for, oh, say five minutes, and then let them go watch TV in the playroom until one of them whines about being hungry, getting hit by the other or having to go potty.

But the folks at, a website that helps people find babysitters and nannies, just sent me this press release with some ideas from childcare experts (which I am not) about how to get your kids to sit at the table for the Thanksgiving meal. I’m sticking with my cartoons all day long plan, but these suggestions might appeal to some of you:

Activities for the Kiddie Table

10 ideas for getting kids to sit still and eat their dinner at the holiday table. nannies and babysitters share their tricks. 

It might be Thanksgiving at your place, Hanukkah dinner at the in-laws or Christmas at your sister’s. No matter the holiday or the location, one thing is for sure: Neither the homemade cranberry sauce nor the bronzed and buttered turkey will keep the kids in their seats. So much for a family holiday!

But with a little creative planning you can keep the children entertained and hanging around the grown-ups for a wonderful intergenerational celebration. Who better to come to the rescue than the creative, playful, quick-thinking nannies and babysitters of We used the Facebook page to find great ideas for keeping kids engaged and behaved at the kiddie table. Here’s what they said:

1. Put on paper faces. Make a paper plate Santa (elf, turkey or silly face). Give each child a paper plate, cotton balls, washable glue and washable paint or markers. They can even try and make portraits or masks of family members at the table then use them to put on a play. – Stephanie H.

2. Sculpt the night away.
Stock the table with Play Doh and cookie cutters. If the kids are little — and tend to eat dough instead of dinner — make an organic version (recipe below). Provide cookie cutters and give kids the challenge of making holiday themed shapes and characters. The recipe: 1 cup water with food coloring added if you want, 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup of salt, 2 tsp cream of tarter, 1 Tbl. oil. Cook on the stove in a large pot till it forms a play dough consistency. For a no-cook, table side preparation, leave out the cream of tarter and oil. – Kimberly V.

3. Construction zone.
Two words: Gingerbread house. Get a kit or just use graham crackers and marshmallow fluff and let the little ones build a yummy structure. Then create a game: Take a bite of food, add a piece of candy to the house. And repeat – Melinda W.

4. Let them shine.
Use colored felt and cut out a variety of shapes that kids can decorate with sparkle glue. Instant ornaments! – Miranda G., Houston, TX

5. Reusable table cloth.
Cover the table with long sheets of craft or butcher paper. Put cups of markers, glitter pens and crayons on the tables. And let them get to work on a masterpiece. Bonus: The end result can double as homemade holiday gift wrap. – Michelle B.

6. Set the table.
Provide each child with green circular felt (or paper) “placemats.” Place colored tissue paper, glue sticks and other crafty décor on the table. After the kids eat, they can lift up their plates and make their own holiday wreaths. – Katherine M.

7. Serve more bird.
Turkey is the highlight of many holiday tables. Ask the children to trace their hand with the crayon on a piece of paper and use varied materials to decorate their personal gobbler. Think feathers, pompom, plastic gems, stickers. – Katherine M.

8. Let it snow.
You can never count on the weather forecast so let the kids help make it a holiday winter wonderland with paper snowflakes. Older kids can use scissors to cut into a folded piece of white paper that when opened is a unique flake. Younger kids can add the glitter and extra flair. – Elly S.

9. Feed the “animals.” Good eaters get to feed the reindeers. Prepare Tuperware full of oats, chocolate chips, sprinkles and glitter. Then full belly gets a plastic sandwich bag to fill with their own Reindeer Trail Mix concoction. Once everyone is done with dinner, the kids can lead the way outside and dust the ground for Rudolph and his pals to eat up. And with each turn, a child gets to make a holiday wish. – Cassandra H.

10. Tasty tactic.
For kids who have made it through the meal, they get to participate in a “decorate your own cupcake” dessert. Give each child a plain frosted cupcake. Then deliver a tray of clear cups filled with sprinkles, M&Ms, gummy bears, crushed Oreos, etc. and let them go crazy with the decorations before enjoying the sweet ending to a peaceful meal. – Margo B.

Written by: Alonna Friedman, Contributor

A Turkey Story

So I’m making Thanksgiving dinner this year. All by myself. It’s times like these that I feel like a real grown-up, like I’ve earned my spot side-by-side with the matriarchs in my family, the women who always smelled like dish soap and had standing weekly appointments with their hair dressers. I’m a big girl now.

Most years we travel to either my family in Tennessee or my husband’s in Virginia for Thanksgiving dinner, but this year I volunteered to host and my perfectionism is beginning to do me in. I started putting together the menu more than month ago, collecting recipes and debating on what to include. Fortunately, I decided to scrap my plans to make my now deceased ex-step-grandmother’s famous homemade sour dough bread. Doing so would have meant starting the starter weeks ago and feeding it every day, so … I’ll be serving store-bought, frozen yeast rolls instead. But everything else will be 100 percent homemade. My menu includes an 18-pound turkey (brined overnight), gravy, sausage-apple stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, green beans, kale, cranberry sauce, cranberry relish, orange salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and coconut cake. And yet it still seems like I’m forgetting something.

This will be third time in my life that I’ve tackled the big meal alone. The second was a few years ago when my husband was deployed and I didn’t feel like traveling, and the first time I’ll tell you about right now…

It was 2002 and my husband and I had just gotten engaged. He already lived in Fayetteville  and I was still living the sunny, single girl beach life in south Florida, so we didn’t get to see each other much. Worse, he had been on a short deployment and was scheduled to fly back on Thanksgiving day on a commercial airplane. A buddy of his was responsible for booking his flight and he managed to find him a flight that landed in Miami in the wee hours of the morning, with a connection that wouldn’t leave until the evening. We’d get about eight hours together on Thanksgiving Day and I was determined to impress him.

Thanksgiving for me, as for most Americans, is all about the home-cooked meal, so having the mother of all dinners in a restaurant was not an option. I was going to have to cook. Besides, I am a good cook. I love to cook. I have a blast in the kitchen, I really do. But I had never before made Thanksgiving dinner. At most I’d made one side dish or a dessert to take to someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner. I’d always thought of Thanksgiving dinner as the Super Bowl of cooking, a task best left to the pros – the old ladies, the women who own roasting pans, the sorts of women who don’t use measuring spoons and who actually plan meals. My cooking adventures usually turned out well, if eclectic. If I was in a sweet mood, I might make four pies and a cake. If I was in a vegetable mood there would likely be no meat served. If I was in a meat mood, you can forget side dishes. So you can imagine my anxiety over flying solo and having to make the biggest meal of the year for my new fiance.
A week before the big day I called his mother and asked her what foods he likes on Thanksgiving. At least I had enough sense to know that not every family does Thanksgiving the same. Fortunately she didn’t name anything that sounded too difficult to make – and she seemed pretty pleased that I planned to cook for him. She’s told me since then that I scored major points with her that day. I bought a whole turkey and all the other ingredients and I started cooking four days in advance. I figured that by starting early I could make everything in my tiny apartment kitchen and serve the meal on time without cutting into the precious few hours that he and I would have to spend together. Everything was going swimmingly until I got to the turkey itself.

I had never roasted any kind of bird and didn’t even know where to begin, so I did the most sensible thing I could think of – the night before Thanksgiving I called my grandmother.
“First you need to put your hand into the cavity and remove the organs,” she said, not even bothering to hide her laughter.
“The cavity, the hole. Oh, Hell,  just stick your hand up the damn turkey’s butt!” she said.
I looked at the headless bird and tried to picture it with a head so that I could figure out which end was the butt. It is not as obvious as you might think.
“The organs?” I asked.
“There’s a little bag in there that has the neck and gizzards and stuff in it,” she said.
And sure enough, there was.
“Pull out all the organs and throw them away, unless you want to make giblet gravy.”
“Umm, no. I bought gravy. I’ll just throw this, umm, stuff away,” I said, pinching the bag between two fingers and eyeing it distastefully.
“Now you just want to rub the bird down with butter real good,” she said, adding, “Make sure you soften the butter first.”
I was glad that she’d mentioned that.
“Then slice an orange in half and shove half of it up the turkey’s butt.”
A lot of butt shoving was going on with this turkey. Who knew Thanksgiving dinner started so intimately? My grandmother went on to help me figure out how long to cook the turkey for and then she asked if I needed help with any of the side dishes. She gave me a few tips on the stuffing and the sweet potatoes and wished me luck, telling me to call her when it was all said and done and tell her how it turned out.
I cherish that conversation. She was diagnosed the following year with an inoperable brain tumor. The memory of her laughing as she explained how to cook the turkey is one of my favorites.

His flight arrived at 5 a.m. I got dressed in a really sexy outfit, heels and all, full make-up, the whole shebang, and planned to meet him at baggage claim. But when I got there the stupid Miami airport wasn’t even open. I think that airport has been under construction since like 1975 and Thanksgiving day was no exception. At that hour on a holiday even the parking lot was closed. I had to just keep circling the airport until he called to tell me that he was standing on the curb. I tried to get out of the car so that he could at least see how cute I was, but he was tired and just wanted to leave. I’m not sure he ever actually noticed my sexy outfit, come to think of it. Seems like a total waste of discomfort to me now.

Thanksgiving was wonderful, though there so many leftovers that I was eating turkey and the trimmings for weeks. When it was time for him to go back to the airport I put the pies – pumpkin and pecan – a couple of forks and a can of whipped cream in the car so that we could eat them on the way.

Come to think of it, our whole married life has been kind of like that: Best of intentions always altered by a mad dash out the door.

What would a flat tax mean to the military?

This is the question I’ve been kicking around, particularly as Herman Cain appeared to rise in the polls. (Though now it seems that 9-9-9 for him also meant that he got nine tries to get with an uninterested woman, and was nine – or more- times rebuffed before seeing his nine political lives all expended…)

I’ve listened to Neal Boortz preach the flat tax for years and have always thought it to be an enticingly simple and fair idea, but what would it mean for me and other military family members in reality?

I will not even attempt to answer this question. For the record, I failed Algebra 1 four times in high school and never passed Algebra 2, a failure that led to me holding the dubious distinction of being the only person in the history of my university to be admitted on both academic scholarship (for high SAT & ACT scores) and academic probation (because Algebra 2 was an admission requirement). I have always believed that paying someone to do my taxes for me was money well spent and I’ve been known to use a calculator to help my first grader with his math homework. All of that is to say:

You. Do. Not. Want. Me. To. Crunch. These. Numbers. For. You.

Sadly, nobody else seems to want to crunch them, either. I’ve been scouring the internet and can’t find any articles or blog posts that do a good job of explaining what effect a flat tax could have on military families.

Cash Money (which is tied to the The Military Wallet) has this prediction about the fate of flat tax proposals. (Spoiler: They say it’s unlikely to ever happen because lobbyists and their legislator pals will never part with the lucrative loopholes.)

And there are umpteen billion posts, columns and articles arguing for and against a flat tax, but I can’t find a good analysis anywhere. Post a link here if you know of any.

So, you’ll have to resort to my guesswork. I think military families will end up paying more under a flat tax system. Here’s why: Troops in combat zones are exempt from paying income taxes. If there were no more income taxes, that exemption would go away. Their families, however, will keep on paying for goods and services throughout a combat deployment, though, so the families will still be paying sales tax — and sales taxes will almost certainly increase if we have a flat tax system. I suppose some procedure could be created where you could save all your receipts and turn them in with a copy of the active duty members orders to get a tax refund, but (judging by the wad of receipts in my purse and in my car) many of us would never do that.

So that’s my, ahem, 2 cents on the issue. And don’t ask me to count any higher.

Happy Veterans Day

The word “happy” doesn’t quite seem appropriate when paired with Veterans Day. Veterans Day is a holiday to honor people who have made tremendous, sometimes unfathomable, sacrifices for the good of everyone in this country. “Happy” seems particularly insufficient in light of that. And yet, it is a happy day. We honor our veterans by thanking them and acknowledging their sacrifices and efforts and, maybe it’s just me, but this year there seems to be more honoring of veterans going on than I recall every taking place in previous years.

Of course, here in Fayetteville, we are smack dab in the middle of the Heroes Homecoming celebration to finally honor the service of Vietnam veterans. Events have been taking place all week and even more are still to come and every school I’ve driven past has “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans” on its sign. It is truly heartwarming. So I thought that maybe my perspective was skewed from being in such a patriotic community, but talking with friends elsewhere they say they’ve noticed more support for veterans in their communities this year, too. Maybe it has something to do with the end of the Iraq War. Whatever the reason, honoring veterans is a great thing and I hope this is a trend that will continue into the future.

It’s a beautiful fall day here in North Carolina. The fall colors seem more vibrant this year and the weather couldn’t be nicer. In my house we’re all enjoying our Veterans Day holiday, and I hope you all are, too.

I was asked to write about military spouses and Veterans Day for The War Report and that commentary is up right now. So, instead of spending this gorgeous day tied to my computer writing something else about Veterans Day, I’m just going to link to that piece and my husband and I are going to take the kids downtown to see some of the Heroes Homecoming exhibits and to enjoy this beautiful fall day. Happy Veterans Day, everyone!

a few more Veterans Day offers

So it seems like this year I’m seeing a lot more offers of free stuff for veterans on Veterans Day, and a lot fewer ads for furniture sales and new cars. Which is great…However, if you’re on active duty you’ll probably need to plan for a little extra PT to work off all this free food, lest you fall victim to the tape test.

Just remember, if you plan to take advantage of these freebies (and you should) you’ll need:

  • Proof of Military Service. Most of the time this will probably be a military ID, but you may be able to use a current Leave and Earnings Statement (LES), a photograph of yourself in uniform, be wearing uniform (if your service permits), Veterans Organization Card (e.g., American Legion and VFW), DD214, discharge paperwork, or other form of identification. Other restaurants and companies may only require a photo of you in uniform, or go by the honor system.
  • Participation. Second, always call ahead to verify locations, times, and participation. Many of the listed companies are franchises and may have different policies.
Read more at: where there also happens to be a rather comprehensive list of free stuff and discounts.

Champps Americana

Enjoy a free burger at Champps on Friday. Military can choose any Champps burger except for the Pepperjack Bacon Stack and Kobe Burgers. The offer is for dine-in only and you should verify that the location nearest you is participating.

Famous Dave’s

Many Famous Dave’s locations are offering free or discounted food to veterans. Offers range from a set dollar amount or percentage reduction to free meals. Check the website to find the specific deal at the Famous Dave’s in your area.


Veterans are invited to Hooters on Veterans Day to enjoy 10 free wings. You must purchase a drink and proof of service, past or present, is required. Check the website for a list of Hooters locations that are participating in the offer.

Olive Garden

Veterans can snag a free meal at Olive Garden on November 11. Choose from a preset menu. Like all good Olive Garden meals, this free food offer includes complimentary bread sticks and your choice of soup or salad.

Spaghetti Warehouse

Spaghetti Warehouse invites everyone — not just veterans — to have a lasagna or original recipe spaghetti entree for just eleven cents! You must print a coupon from their website.

Texas Roadhouse

Military members can grab a free lunch at Texas Roadhouse on November 11 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Choose from a preset menu of 10 items. Plus, you’ll receive a soda, iced tea or coffee on the house!

Other free food offers for the military on Veterans Day

  • Grab a free donut from Krispy Kreme
  • Get a free order of Crazy Bread with a purchase from Little Caesars
  • Order a free Coke product and Bloomin’ Onion between November 7 and November 11 at Outback Steakhouse
  • Buy one 6-ounce steak entree and get one free at Sizzler
  • Snag a free 6-inch sub or flatbread sandwich at participating Subway restaurants
  • But one meal and get one free at T.G.I. Friday’s
  • Receive a 19.43 percent discount at Uno’s on Veterans Day
  • Papa John’s will donate $1 to the USO for every online order of its newly created USO Meal Deal at The USO Meal Deal consists of two large one-topping pizzas for $20.
  • Sleep Number will offer free travel pillows (while supplies last) to active and retired military personnel who visit any of the 400 Sleep Number stores nationwide . Sleep Number will also offer $700 off the Sleep Number i8 and p7 bet sets plus 36 months financing, free standard shipping on all beds, and 30 percent off ALL Sleep Number bedding solutions. These deals are exclusive to all active/retired military personnel from October 30 through November 20.

Home from the war with a business to start?

The White House and the Small Business Administration are hosting an event called YES: Young Entrepreneur Summit for Veterans. According to the press release:

With youth unemployment twice the national average

in many communities,

particularly among veterans,

SBA recognizes a need to promote and better support

the efforts of young people looking to create jobs – for themselves and others.

Young veteran entrepreneurs are a

dynamic resource for national recovery and growth.

The goal of this event is to bring together leading young entrepreneurs, financiers, youth advocacy organizations and government experts to listen, address critical challenges and formulate public policy measures needed to move the veteran young entrepreneur’s business agenda to the next level.

When: Monday, November 7, 2011

Time: 5:30 PM PCT

Where:  San Diego State University’s Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center

5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA

To register for this event, go to: