“I’m calling for another truck, they have too much stuff!”

Here we were in the midst of yet another military move and I could not believe what I was hearing.

For those of you who don’t know – all active duty are held to a weight limit according to rank. Surpass that weight limit and you pay a fee per pound with fees varying depending on the carrier and state.

I had failed to properly unload what my husband likes to call stuff.

 How could we possibly have too much?

I had purged and donated and purged and thrown away so many things – and then purged again! I heeded the advice of the moving counselor, but to no avail.

Too much stuff? I don’t think so! And guess what? I don’t want to get rid of my stuff!

Why don’t you get rid of your stuff U.S. Government?  Aren’t you the one with excess cheese to give away? What do you want me to leave behind Uncle Sam? One of our eight beds? One of our nine bicycles? My grandmother’s quilt? Or maybe a child would satisfy your blood lust?

No sooner had my thoughts of anger and dismay begun to dissipate; a smaller moving truck rounded the corner. The team filled the truck up and I thought to myself, “what’s done is done and I will deal with it on the other end”.

Standing on my lawn with a child on each hip I watched with great interest as the smaller truck circled around, backed up and made contact with the back of the 18 wheeler.  “Wait!,” I screamed throwing both children to the side as I ran towards the truck”.  “What are you doing?”  “Well Ma’am, we can’t seem to get the door closed on the big truck so we are going to back up the little truck until they make contact and then throw the latch down.”  While distracted by our conversation I heard what can only be described as a hideous melding of metal, steel, china and furniture.  I suspect it may be similar to what the sad souls heard that night on the ill fated Titanic as the iceberg made contact with the ship’s hull.

Again, what’s done is done. The trucks pulled away and I prepared for what would be one of our 7 cross country trips.

On that particular trip, we planned a stop in Truckee, California to visit the location of the Donner Party at Donner Memorial State Park located in the beautiful yet unforgiving Sierra Nevada.  Between 1846 and 1847 a group of pioneers set off on a journey from Illinois to California and unwittingly became players in a tragic tale of American Pioneer history.

The plaque on the rear of the Pioneer Statue reads:

NEAR THIS SPOT STOOD THE BREEN CABIN OF THE PARTY OF EMIGRANTS WHO STARTED FOR CALIFORNIA FROM SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS, IN APRIL 1846, UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF CAPTAIN GEORGE DONNER. DELAYS OCCURRED AND WHEN THE PARTY REACHED THIS LOCALITY, ON OCTOBER 29, THE TRUCKEE PASS EMIGRANT ROAD WAS CONCEALED BY SNOW. THE HEIGHT OF THE SHAFT OF THE MONUMENT INDICATES THE DEPTH OF THE SNOW, WHICH WAS TWENTY-TWO FEET. AFTER FUTILE EFFORTS TO CROSS THE SUMMIT THE PARTY WAS COMPELLED TO ENCAMP FOR THE WINTER. THE GRAVES CABIN WAS SITUATED ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS OF A MILE TO THE EASTWARD, THE MURPHY CABIN ABOUT TWO HUNDRED YARDS SOUTHWEST OF THE MONUMENT, AND THE DONNER TENTS WERE AT THE HEAD OF ALDER CREEK. NINETY PEOPLE WERE IN THE PARTY AND FORTY-TWO PERISHED, MOST OF THEM FROM STARVATION AND EXPOSURE.
IN COMMEMORATION OF THE PIONEERS WHO CROSSED THE PLAINS TO SETTLE IN CALIFORNIA. MONUMENT ERECTED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE NATIVE SONS AND THE NATIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE GOLDEN WEST. MONUMENT DEDICATED JUNE 6, 1918.

While the site is both moving and emotionally charged, as a military wife I was touched by the story of Mrs. Donner a military spouse in her own right being married to Captain Donner. She started her journey in Illinois with a full wagon of china, fine clothing a piano and many other household items she felt dear to her. By the time they became stranded, all that was left were the clothes on their backs and their very lives. Patty Reed, one of the young daughters of the Reed family, in an act of youthful defiance, hid a very tiny porcelain doll in the folds of her dress and hand carried it all the way to California. It is on display at Sutter’s Fort in California.

I had a true moment of clarity that day. The stuff doesn’t matter. A wise man once said, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Family matters. Your Sailor, Soldier, Airman and Marine coming home matters.

As we throw ourselves into yet another PCS season, stay calm, do your best to prepare and remember that you really don’t need all that stuff.

But with that, let’s end on a high note! Tell me your moves over years ( I have 16 moves in 28 years – 16/28) and let’s see who wins the title of worst moving experience!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Under-Cooked Dough and Other Things You Should Know

This is about mistakes – entertaining mistakes.

We all experience them; some small, some epic.

But, we recover and we learn from the experience. However, there was a time when I neither recovered, nor learned.

When planning I would create in my mind the party to end all parties, but when the inevitable happened (burnt food, forgotten ingredients or children vomiting on me moments before a guest’s arrival) I became unglued.

I would often think, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this military lifestyle. Maybe I should focus my efforts on other ways to support the command.”

But that competitive, over-achieving military spouse inside of me would raise her fist like Scarlett O’Hara and shout back, “No! I will not be defeated!”

I have not yet lost the war, but there have been a few battles where I threw up the white flag.

Example #1: My Less-Than-Thankful Thanksgiving

After a few years of marriage and countless military functions, I agreed to host my first large Thanksgiving meal.

My husband Joe was attached to a Marine squadron that had a few squadron mates of the Royal Air Force on exchange from England. It was all very intriguing – the accent, their wives, the culture they offered.

One evening Joe came home and announced that we were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for three exchange pilots, their wives, and their children. They had expressed interest in a true American Thanksgiving feast and that’s what they were going to get. Who cares that I had never hosted one before? Or that I had three children under four and my appliance of choice was the equivalent of an Easy Bake oven (compliments of the U.S. government)?

“Yes,” I thought. “I’ve got this!”

I had cooked a turkey before (I think?), I had cooked rolls before (maybe?), and I had even prepared gravy, but for some reason I went into panic mode.

I went against my better judgement and started to take shortcuts. Between caring for my babies, preparing the house and trying to create an unforgettable feast, I panicked and started to change things up in my mind.

“I know!,” I thought, “I’ll use one of those cooking bags to insure done-ness. Oh! And I’ll use rolls in a tin so I have enough bread. And how about packaged gravy to supplement my own…” As you can see, I mentally spiraled out of control. To this day, I still do not know why I did the things I did that holiday weekend.

The big day arrived and no kidding, the kitchen sink backed up and there was no one from housing maintenance available to come out. My dear husband tried to clear it, but it just would not give. The water backed up to the top and the entire sink was unusable. I actually rinsed and peeled potatoes in my bathtub! Throughout the day of prepping and preparing, all of the dirty dishes went into the bathtub as well.  The best part though (ssshhhh don’t tell the British) I had to rinse the turkey under the spigot in the tub. It never touched anything, I promise. There is nothing like a Marine holding out a fresh white towel as if to say, “come to Daddy.”  I handed him the bird as a doctor might present a newborn son.  It was complete insanity.

I felt a bit of relief when the turkey was actually in the oven cooking. Remember I told you I used a cooking bag for the first time? Well, I did not mentally process that the cooking time is literally cut in half when using an oven bag but friends – I cooked it for the full five hours according to the turkey instructions.  – I can still taste it now, it was like tree bark.

On to prepping the stuffing. Dear old Mom’s sausage and nut stuffing. I had made it the week before and… oh my goodness had forgotten to thaw it! “No problem,” I confidently thought. I’ll just pop it in a pan and slowly heat it up. No sooner had I done so then I smelled the acrid scent of scorching food. Sausage stuffing, please report to the trashcan. What would my guests know? They are not even American so how would they know what is in a traditional American Thanksgiving?

Growing up, my mother taught my sisters and I the most amazing yeast roll recipe…why I did not make them, I have no idea. I used the Pillsbury brand in the tin and while tasty – they have directions that MUST be followed.

As dinner was underway, I noticed no one was taking a second helping of rolls. In a moment of true insanity, I grabbed one and ran across the street to my friend’s house (a lovely Navy wife who was unflappable).

I shoved a roll in her hand and said, “Taste this and tell me what’s wrong with it.” As she took a bite and pulled the roll away from her mouth, there appeared to be mozzarella cheese oozing out. She asked me, “did you make cheese stuffed croissants?”

“Uncooked dough!,”  I screamed and ran across the street back into my home. I immediately removed the rolls and watched in horror as no one tried a second helping of the turkey. Riddle me this: what is the actually cooking time of a twenty pound bird if you cook according to the directions PLUS toss it in an oven bag? Ten hours? I don’t know, but imagine my guests chewing with only their front teeth and downing copious amounts of water.

Course three – dessert. What could go wrong? I was a pro at pumpkin pie and had taken no shortcuts. I even prepared homemade whipped cream. I triumphantly paraded my pie to the table. No takers. “Oh we’re sorry love; we don’t eat veg in our dessert.” I could not believe my ears but then thought, “yeah, I guess that is pretty gross.”

 Suddenly, out came the lovely English trifle that was brought as a hostess gift. Have you ever seen rabid dogs fight over a bone? You get where I am going with this. The trifle dish was licked clean and I mean clean.

I guess I cannot blame them. It was a pretty terrible meal.

While so much went wrong that evening, I did do a few things right. I absolutely hid from my guests even the hint of a problem and kept the evening moving with good drink and good conversation. Never allow your guests to see or hear of a problem if you can at all help it. It makes everyone uncomfortable, which is the exact opposite of what a host or hostess desires.

My biggest failure that evening was trying new things. Never, ever try anything for the first time the night of your event. You are inviting disaster.  My husband and I still get a good laugh out of this experience, but I sure wish I could have a redo! And I promise, I have never rinsed meat in the bathtub since.

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Hostess Gift

Presenting your host or hostess with a small gift is a lovely way to say thank you. It is a token of appreciation not only for the invitation, but for the effort that undoubtedly went into planning the event.

A gift should be simple in nature.

One example is a small bouquet of flowers. A lovely gesture, but people usually forget that a beautiful, unconstrained spring bouquet to the hostess or host creates an unexpected job. They now must find a vase, water and a location for your gift.  Try and present flowers in a small jar or decorative vessel.

Perhaps you are uncertain as to the taste of your host or hostess. If so, consumables are a smart way to go. Unique candies or local wines are very fun, especially when arriving at a new location. It allows both guest and host to try the local specialties.

Often times, a guest will present their signature gift. A token of either food or artisan craft from their home state. It can be anything. Virginia salted peanuts from Virginia, a can of specialty clam chowder from New England (sold in certain Navy Exchanges) or a delicious box of salt water taffy from North Carolina.

Perhaps you are a crafter or own an embroidery machine.  It is always a motivating thrill to open a gift bag and see before you your branch’s logo. Rest assured it will be put to good use.

Occasionally, an invite will read:

“No hostess gifts please” or “in lieu of hostess gifts please bring a non-perishable item for the  base food pantry.”

Please adhere to such directives. The hostess or host has good reason for their request.

Or during the holidays you may see the following, “in lieu of a hostess gift please bring an unwrapped toy.”

A toy donation during the holidays is always a lovely gesture. Your donations are most likely going to identified families within the command or stationed on your base. Remember, this is simply a request according to your time and financial abilities.  No one will be checking for your donation at the door.

Oftentimes, a guest will arrive with a food specialty of their own making. This is a thoughtful idea however, do not bring a full platter or dish of anything unless requested to do so. Your host or hostess has painstakingly planned their menu to include dessert and beverage pairings. Never expect food or wine brought as a hostess gift to be used during the event you are attending.

Occasionally, I will come across a great deal on several of the same items. I buy them all and proceed to use them as my signature gift until they run out. Keep your eyes open for those great steals!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

Sweet and Savory, Bad Behaviory

“Is there anything on this buffet that is gluten free, anything at all!?”

I paused for a moment as a chill ran down my spine.

I had forgotten to provide a gluten free alternative and now my militant guest was calling me out with shrill, Verruca Salt-like attitude. I scrambled for a box of gluten free crackers, uncontaminated fruit, rock candy (maybe a little past the expiration date, but rock candy doesn’t go bad right?!). I looked for anything, ANYTHING, that would suffice in this entertaining emergency. How did I miss this? I finally found something and quickly prepared a small plate for my guest.

But I’ll be honest, after catching my breath I became slightly irritated.

Allergies can be deadly, so as a host or hostess we want to be made aware of all dietary restrictions and my guest seemed to have forgotten to inform me of her condition. The goal of any good host or hostess is to provide and cater to their guest’s every need. However, sometimes people take their guest status a little too far. Instead of taking offense, take note – and learn from it!

I make sure I always take into stock comments I hear during the event. Then after all the guests leave, I do what the military calls a “hot wash,” or an ”after-action report.” I mentally go over the good and the bad, the successful and unsuccessful. You understand! It’s a great way to make sure at your next event you don’t find yourself in a hard place between a gluten-free guest and a gluten-full table.

“I hate meatloaf but this is actually good.”

“How long do we have to stay?”

“Does she actually drink wine out of this?”

Think I’m kidding? Even the most refined officer and polished lady of state can accidentally leave their mental filter at home.

“I hate this champagne, it is ca-ca.”

“Oh nothing for me, we leave for Hawaii in a week and I am dieting.”

“I don’t eat vegetables in my dessert.”

That last one? Foreign military – bet you never thought of that!

“Doesn’t she have any wine glasses that are bigger?”

“I know I said I couldn’t make it but surprise, I’m here!”

“I used the cream in your fridge.”

It was breast milk for the baby.

I brought the baby because I knew you would want to hold her.”

“You wouldn’t be able to mix up a few martinis would you?”

“Those directions were terrible, who wrote them?”

“I hate the colors red and green.”

At a Christmas party!

“I don’t eat off of buffets, I am afraid people have touched all the food.”

“I drank the last of the Jack…”

“I hate Mexican food.”

Guess what was being served?

“I think my boyfriend is drunk…”

“Can I turn the game on?”

“Oh, when are you due?”

Well the only thing due that night was the electrical bill, so unless you’re at her baby shower, do not ask a lady when she is due…

Too, too funny but all true.

I listen to the polite complaints, I watch for food left on plates. It all holds value as a visual after-action.

The truth is my wine glasses were too small and the champagne may very well have been cheap. Lesson learned.

I also take into consideration how people were raised.

My first generation, immigrant mother has often used the word “obbondanza” which is Italian for abundant. Everything must be abundant, mounded butter, mounded salad, mounded pasta, eat, eat, and eat! I once attended a dinner where the hostess prepared an absolutely delicious meal. She served each guest one portion then removed all of the food back to the kitchen. Waaaaiiittt I thought… I am a third-helping type of girl.

Rude perhaps, but as I got to know her it became evident she had been raised in a home where they were on a very tight budget and was now running her home the same way.

Another example is when (in an effort to be fancy) I started using cloth napkins. They are chic and classic, yet I failed to consider the fact that if my guest didn’t care for whatever they were eating it was going in the cloth napkin! Needless to say, I have thrown away a few good cloth napkins.

Don’t overestimate (notice I did not say underestimate) your guest’s desire to try new things. I once served liver pâté and ended up placing a small trash can next to the buffet because so many people spit it out (into my good cloth napkins)! Hysterical.

Whatever happens at your event, just remember your guests came because they like you and want to get to know you better.

Be patient and gracious and like they say in the movies, “smile and wave boys, smile and wave.”

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

The Help

For a military spouse, the luxury of hiring chefs, gardeners, florists and house-cleaners is just that- a luxury. As we progress alongside our active duty member, the opportunities to entertain become more plentiful. We all know the effort it takes to prepare for a BBQ, let alone a unit holiday party for six hundred (you know who you are…). Help is essential – without it the event cannot happen!

I don’t mean the volunteers within the unit either (that’s called servitude – google it, just don’t engage in it). I’m talking about your own personal events. The events we host in an effort to continue our valued traditions of fellowship and camaraderie. Once in a while one of my civilian friends will ask, “Is it really like what we see on TV?” No, not really, but it’s fun to dream…
Some of us love to entertain, while others cringe at the very thought, and that’s okay. If you fall in the latter, you simply must be more creative on how you approach the situation. The people in your unit expect socializing. They look forward to it and it is a letdown when gatherings don’t happen. While entertaining is never mandatory, if you are not up to the challenge then pass the torch to someone else in the unit. It’s how the younger generations learn as well!

While stationed in North Carolina, I saw an amazing thing – within our neighborhood on base, if a wife hosted an event, she would put out an ‘all call’ for side dishes or desserts according to her theme. The spouses that were available provided a dish and the hostess would hopefully return the favor at a later date. The same logic applies with cooking, prep and housecleaning. I had a friend not affiliated with our unit come over and bake off all my appetizers while I welcomed guests at my front door. I returned the kindness later by vacuuming and dusting for her event while she was in the shower. You know what I am talking about – you have probably done it many times over. Most entertaining in the military world is on-the-job training.

I have seen spouses host events and singularly preform all the duties that a full staff would normally be hired to do. This calls for self-sufficiency.  Seek out the local or base garden clubs for lessons, a nursery that offers wreath making classes; or better yet, sign up with some friends and take the Williams-Sonoma culinary demonstrations offered in the actual storefronts! Swap your skill of baking for another’s mad skills at setting up a small scale bar. I am constantly amazed at how many self-starters we have right in base housing! Fabulous bakers, designers and decorators are right at one’s finger-tips. Most of us had a profession before we married and would love to swap (or make a few extra dollars) while keeping our skills sharp.

Now for the transparency part of my post: I use my children whenever possible. They live the life, understand the needs, and get the mission. Draw googly eyes on a sock, place it on your three year old’s hand, and tell them the puppet wants to slide on the floor moldings. Dusting is done. I pay them well in Starbucks, shoes and In-N-Out burgers. It’s a great opportunity for bonding over a shared goal and really a lot of fun. Remember though, you get what you pay for and if a better offer comes along (day trip to the beach), I get ditched and I need to be prepared for that!

The bottom line is, we all have certain things we are willing to pay hard cash for. If catering or housecleaning is on your list, then go for it. Get references from friends and work it out.

I will warn you, sometimes wires get crossed and “the help” shows up late or not at all. If you don’t like them, don’t hire them a second time. If you do like them but they were late, provide them their own personal arrival time (two hours before your guest’s arrival time) and give them many courtesy reminder calls.

You know what you are capable of and what you need assistance with. Go for it!

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

 

 

 

I’m with the Band

Whether it is a change of command, retirement ceremony, post and relief or military ball, there is nothing more engaging than live entertainment. Unfortunately, there is nothing more expensive either. Not to worry! With a little thought and some prior planning, your fete will be memorable with the addition of musicians, vocalist or dancers.

The military ensembles that we see playing at almost all ceremonies are steeped in tradition and the customs of our respective branches. Who doesn’t love entering an event hearing the sound of a brass band playing an American tune? Music can be patriotic, moving, motivating and exciting. To sit and enjoy a band of active duty military in uniform can be quite an emotional experience for our civilian guests – just ask them.

If your spouse is in command, he or she may “rate the band” for a command function, meaning they can submit a formal request for music at the official command event. You, as the spouse, have nothing to do with this process. As my husband has been known to say to me, “Don’t make requests of the active duty – they don’t work for you.”

*Record scratch*

Your birthday, baby shower, anniversary and going away are absolutely not events that rate a band request. Surprised? Don’t be.

The installation musicians support many different commands, and your spouse must make the request months in advance. String ensembles, brass quartets, full marching bands and vocalists are some of the possibilities offered.

The beauty of these active duty warrior-musicians is that they show up, ready to perform. No dressing rooms, no glass of green M&Ms – no absurd special requests. They are always excellent and after the ceremony *poof* they are gone! Keep in mind, most (if not all) active duty musicians are not only trained professional military, but also hold undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in their respective fields of music. They should be treated as the consummate professionals they are. Always offer the band members a full brunch, lunch, or dinner (add them to your RSVP count) as well as water bottles (especially if the event is held outdoors).

Always remember that located just outside the walls of every duty station is the culture that surrounds it. For example, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton sits on what was once a thriving Ranchero. The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores (the original ranch house) is a stunning venue for ceremonies of all types. Why not invite the local Ballet Folklorico to preform? There is nothing more beautiful than the men, women and children of the troop, in full regalia dancing with the Ranchero as their backdrop. You offer them a private monetary donation for their school of dance, agreed upon prior to your event and invite them to stay for lunch or dinner (add them to your RSVP count). You should also give them a professional introduction to your guests. This is an absolute win-win for all involved. As military families, we must be continuously reaching out to our surrounding cities in what is essentially good public relations. Our civilian families in turn, have the opportunity to get to know their local military which they love!

I have seen everything from Miss USO singing the National Anthem at a birthday ball to hearing the haunting sounds of bagpipes magnified in the spaces of a Marine F-18 hangar.

Remember, anything you and your spouse choose to do, is financially your responsibility. If in doubt, always consult the command legal team.

Upon arriving to your new duty station, dig deeply into the surrounding areas. What is it famous for? And what are its specialties? Keep your ear to the ground for any spouses who have musical talents. We have concert pianist, vocalists and professional harpists living right in housing. By hiring “in house” you are supporting fellow military families.

Remember, if we all had unlimited funds, my post would be unnecessary. This is about being financially creative yet still hosting the event of your dreams! Now go get your band!
Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie

So, Were You Overweight When You Got Here?

After a few weeks of unpacking and figuring out our new duty station, my wonderful neighbor invited me over for coffee. I was ecstatic at the chance to actually get dressed, put on makeup, and enjoy some much needed conversation with a fellow Marine wife.

The coffee was delicious, the food delectable, and the conversation great. We talked about our children, the schools, the new job and as the conversation flowed the topic of the move came up. I took a sip of coffee, looked at my new friend and politely asked, “So, were you overweight when you got here?”

Now some of you know where I am going with this and some of you must think my question is off the charts hideous. In military life (I’m talking to you newbies here), we are bound by what I like to call the ‘rules of engagement;’ to include a language all our own that only a military spouse understands. As many of you know, the PCS (Permanent Change of Station) experience is a series of endless rules and regulations that, if not adhered to, can cause you much unneeded stress. As my husband often says, “life is hard and it’s harder if you’re stupid.” Harsh – maybe. True – absolutely.

Back to my friend…

I wish there was a way to blog facial expressions. I sat there waiting for her answer – nothing. “You know,” I emphatically exclaimed, “Were your household goods overweight?” “Oooh,” she replied, “I thought you were talking about me being overweight.” Nice. I was horrified and glad this sweet lady was as nice as she was. Back to the rules of engagement…..

It seemed from the time I walked down the aisle with my man in uniform, we were on an endless quest to accumulate what I simply call stuff. Furniture, dishes, electronics, clothes, books, professional manuals, baby furniture, workout gear and the list goes on. It never occurred to me to be considerate of our weight as a family and a household.

Each active duty member is allotted a certain amount of weight according to his or her personal rank. Exceed the allotted weight amount and you pay the government back. It gets better. An automatic withdrawal from your active duty spouse’s paycheck must be set up and the payments begin until the debt is reconciled. It goes without saying that exceeding your authorized weight can create a financial burden with potential disastrous effects on your livelihood, finances, ability to save and quality of life in general. I have included the move.mil link for weight guidelines.

It is a difficult task to maintain a level of discipline when it comes to accumulating stuff. Especially for you lucky ones that receive orders to Europe or Asia. Who can pass up that fabulous German wardrobe or the beautiful Japanese Tansu? I feel your pain… However, it is the financial kiss of death to convince yourself that you deserve something because, “he/she dragged me here and I deserve it.” As a dear aviator’s wife once asked me, “was he not in uniform when you married him?” Meaning, you probably had an idea of what you were in for.

Older wife lecture over- I digress.

The bottom line is, be in agreement with your spouse as to what you are willing and not willing to take a financial hit on. If you accumulate two households, that is on you just be ready to pay for it because the bill will be paid one way or another.

As PCS season approaches, I start going through the house. Room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer. Not. Lying. It is time consuming but well worth it. We have needlessly moved sparkly flip flops from San Diego to sub-zero Omaha. Snow boots from Rhode Island to Pensacola. Be mindful of what is easily replaced and what you can live without. Create three piles: keep, throw away and donate. Your local donation point on base is ready and waiting to accept your donations that will in turn directly benefit our active duty families in need. I am partial and most familiar with the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.

Possibly one of the best ideas I have ever seen was at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. A group of wives got together and scheduled a neighborhood swap in the park located inside housing. Families came with everything one might imagine. People left behind unwanted items, left with needed items and whatever was left at the end of the day was donated to the relief society on base. Utilize your neighborhood Facebook page to organize a “PCS Season Swap.”

What does this have to do with entertaining you might ask? I have found that dishes, stemware, serving dishes and the like are some of my heaviest items in the pack out. They require more packing, more space and are terribly heavy. Be careful as it adds up! Whatever you decide, have fun with your military experience and don’t overthink it. Just be smart about what you do and keep things simple!
Entertainingly Yours,
Cassie

Let Them Eat Cake

In my heart of hearts, I want to bake. I want to create magical masterpieces that light upon the taste buds. I have watched friends who seemingly create fantastical desserts merely by saying it is so. I grew up with a mother who would make croquembouche for Christmas dessert. I bought Bundt and spring form pans, thinking that by osmosis the ability to use them will come screaming to my frontal lobes. I have taken all the Wilton cake decorating courses. I have studied you tube videos only to produce wilting macaroons and chocolate chip cookies that only the dog would love. Sadly, nothing has taken! I have a few go-to desserts and have actually been known to bring out Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars on a footed silver platter passing them around as if they were Turkish Delight.

Perhaps I am slightly exaggerating my lack of ability when it comes to baking, but I do know my limitations, and that is very important when entertaining. You must constantly self-assess, embracing what you can do and finding alternatives for what you cannot. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you must create every item on your menu personally. A famous chef once said, “your guests won’t like you more because you made all the food.”

But back to me not baking…

When I am planning an event that requires a large amount of cake (staff birthdays, small scale ball, wedding shower, combined unit baby shower, etc.) I head over to my big box store and place an order for a plain white sheet cake. I ask that the standard piping be done but nothing else. Upon receiving the cake, I decorate it with the colors or themes of the event. I often purchase a fresh bouquet of flowers cutting the stems down to a three inch length and simply recreate the bouquet on the cake. Place the stems in the cake the exact way you would arrange flowers in a vase. You can be symmetrical or asymmetrical either centering your bouquet or cornering it. Both will be beautiful. I have placed nonpareils (a decorative confectionery of tiny balls made with sugar and starch that come in many colors) at each peak on the piping, sprinkled the cake with coordinating colored sugars or for children added items that they desire like toys or figures. The fun is in as much or as little as you desire.

A traditional cake ordered form a professional baker is a wonderful thing but can run you upwards of fifty dollars for a nine-inch round layered. That could easily deplete your party budget and if you are in a two-year command, this is yet another item that will begin to add up. The big box store’s cake has excellent flavor, is always fresh and has a standard that is consistent. This is a full sheet cake, double layered, for $18.99! If you are staggering your purchases between pay periods, this cake and cupcakes as well will freeze nicely up to six months! Ready to give it a shot?

Entertainingly Yours,

Cassie


Crepe Bar

In the insular world of military life, it can be very difficult to be creative, especially when entertaining. As ideas catch fire, a host or hostess must dig deeper in the area of creativity as not to be passé or overdone. As I was busy planning our battalion Christmas party, I racked my brain as to who in my life had a skill or talent that I could utilize at our big event. I immediately called my daughter Jackie and asked for her help. Being the savvy, young professional that she is, she calmly replied, “crepe bar mom, have a crepe bar for your guests, it’s really easy and everyone loves it.”

I was immediately hooked on the idea. Jackie happens to be a culinary genius and volunteered to work crepes all night on an as-needed basis. The night before our event she set up her station. We ran over the flow as guests would enter and determined that I would welcome individuals to enjoy a cocktail on the patio, or walk to the left and enjoy a freshly made crepe at the crepe bar (my kitchen counter).

Jackie then set up her station. We decided to keep the options simple. The dessert offerings for the evening would be a traditional sugar with butter or a Nutella filled crepe. I purchased extra-large piping bags located in the cake decorating section of my local craft store (you will not need to purchase tips), large jars of Nutella according to how many guests you expect and of course the necessary ingredients called for in the recipe.

Jackie knows the recipe by heart, but I chose this one for you. Remember: as the crepe is finished cooking you will fill the inside with Nutella and fold accordingly. We planned on crepes for one hundred having sent out one hundred and twenty-five invitations.

Jackie filled two large bags with Nutella and closed them off with a twist tie. She then laid out the two crepe pans I purchased (6.99 each at a local cooking supply store), a can of non-stick spray and a spatula. We also purchased one hundred clear plastic dessert dishes and forks, stacking them at the station. Approximately one hour before the event, she prepared one batch of the crepe batter (for freshest taste I recommend making the batter as close to party time as possible). She also clipped the end of one of the piping bags with a pair of kitchen scissors. She was ready to go!

I purchased red metallic frames (can also be used for Valentine’s Day, Independence Day events, Memorial Day, Homecomings and Birthdays) at IKEA and had them placed around the various food stations showing options and content. A few weeks prior to the event, I printed out menus for each food station to include the crepe bar choices.

As the evening got underway and I was able to catch my breath, I walked around to check on all the food and drink. Jackie, dressed in her white waist coat and chef’s hat, was busy creating at a rapid rate with no end in sight. The guest line for crepes wrapped around the kitchen bar and into the hallway. Success, I thought! Jackie took orders, prepared on request and I clocked her at five hours with very few breaks in between. It was brilliant and I feel comfortable saying that because I had nothing to do with it!

I highly recommend this idea for a few reasons. It is delicious, very inexpensive and it eliminates a dessert table for your party. It is different and your guests will love making their selection, watching it being created and of course the taste! You can do this for two or two hundred. Also, if you over purchase your ingredients, you simply have extra eggs, Nutella, sugar, flour and butter! I encourage you to find a friend or relative who enjoys cooking and can handle the task at hand so you, as the host or hostess, are not stuck at the stove all night. We actually had a dry run for the family a week prior (gorging ourselves on crepes with several different fillings) finally deciding on the sugar and Nutella. Remember, never, ever try anything for the first time the day of your event. It could prove disastrous!

Entertainingly yours,
Cassie

PME Breakfast

As entertainers, we are always trying to reinvent the party, to be trendier, more cutting edge yet still spend as little money as possible, successfully executing the event and having fun while doing it! Impossible? Absolutely not – you are a military spouse so let’s do this!

I have hosted countless events yet still was somewhat unprepared for how pricey entertaining within the realm of command started to become. I had a million amazing ideas I wanted to experiment with and found myself way out of budget within a short period of time after my husband took command. We all know every penny is spent by choice, so this is not a complaint. However, I know you all well enough to understand that we entertain out of a love for the people in our unit and the preservation of our customs and courtesies. Most importantly though is the bonding that comes with families who are always a moment’s notice away from sending our active-duty loved ones into harm’s way.

After a few months in command, I started to crunch the numbers somewhat disappointed that my extravagant meals and chic parties had gone by the wayside before ever getting off the ground. I tried to think of food items that were less expensive yet still a joy to cook with and something I would be proud to serve my guests. Breakfast is inexpensive but who would want to come to breakfast?

I approached my husband and he suggested we make it into a PME (Professional Military Education) breakfast. What is a PME you might ask? It is an opportunity to teach the active duty about all aspects of personal and professional development. I was on it!

We planned for a Friday and my husband sent out an invite via email. We set the limit to command and staff exclusively with an arrival time of 0630, yes that is 6:30am in the morning! We planned for and fed fourteen Marines a sit-down meal that day.
I created the menu with diet in mind. Our military is held to a strict standard of weight and I wanted to be respectful of that. Plus, it’s hard to eat a huge breakfast and then return to work and stay focused.

What I served:

  • Egg and Potato Strata – a layered casserole dish mainly used for brunches
  • Goldilox – scrambled egg with fresh salmon and cream cheese topped with fresh parsley
  • Fresh Fruit – mixed berries
  • Fresh buttermilk biscuits – made the night before and stored tightly in a Ziploc baggie
  • Homemade peach jam – from my sister’s West Virginia peach orchard
  • Butter – room temperature
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh coffee, tea and water – cream, sugar, artificial sweetener
  • Freshly squeezed orange juice – squeezed late the night before

Whenever I create a menu I always include everything down to the salt and pepper. Attention to detail is something to be emulated from our spouses. Leave nothing to chance!

The strata was very time-consuming in prep so I did it all the night before and actually created the dish the next morning. Remember to keep your sliced potatoes completely covered in water or they will turn brown within a short period of time.
The one thing I can always count on is that Marines are on time. Sure enough at 6:30am on the dot our guests were at the door! There is nothing more amazing to see uniformed men and women of all ranks walking up to your door to break bread.

The PME breakfast was a successful event in many ways. With a cost comparison between eggs (one dozen for 46 cents at a local chain or a prime filet of beef from the big box store averaging $80.00!) the breakfast is by far the less expensive choice. Also, this was an event where spouses were not invited thereby cutting the count in half. We incurred no cost for invitations with a professional email request being sent by the leadership and the event was done by 10am.




Unexpected:

I set up a coffee bar at all of my events. I sometimes use a 60 cup urn but for smaller gatherings that still require copious amounts of coffee I use my Keurig. My china cups and saucers were set up and ready to go. As the guests arrived and began getting their morning coffee, right away I sensed a commotion. I turned the corner only to see Marines holding 8 ounce china cups and selecting the 12 ounce coffee option. Coffee on the floor, bar and their shoes. I hadn’t thought the service all the way through. I immediately swapped all the china out for mugs. Disaster averted!

So when can I expect breakfast?

Entertainingly yours,

Cassie