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Fort Benning Tour of Homes is Sunday

Mindy Choppa has traveled the world with husband Col. Robert Choppa, Chief of Staff for Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning.

Their home features special items from those travels as well as Mindy's latest bargain finds.

Carpets purchased from street vendors in Turkey, a desk from Waverly Hall, art from markets in Germany and decorative accents from Target find a home at the Choppa residence.

"I don't care where it comes from. If I like it, I like it. And it it's cheap, it's like a prize," Mindy says.

The couple and sons John, 17, a senior at Brookstone, and Jacob, 15, a sophomore at Brookstone, also share the home with three dogs, Lulu, Mable and Charlie.

The family invites guests to stop by on Dec. 2, when guests can visit 18 houses at the Fort Benning Tour of Homes.

Mindy, who's originally from Butler, Ga, will be waiting with a smile and a story.

She fondly remembers where she got many of her home's pieces thanks to a collection of photos she snapped that feature her purchases with the artist or street vendor who was selling them.

Mindy says although the men in her family aren't particularly interested in shopping themselves, they're good sports.

"I have plenty of guys to carry things for me," she says.

Sometimes they even unintentionally impact design decisions.

While stationed in Germany, Mindy took then-11-year-old Jacob to Paris.

"He wanted one of those Eiffle tower figures that every street vendor is selling. I didn't think much of it, and didn't really even want to buy it for him, but I did... Later, I saw it in his room and started thinking... now I love it, and I have it in the living room," she said.

Another favorite piece is a platter from her husband's family. Now, it hangs on the wall of the Choppa's Fort Benning dining room but when she and her husband were dating, he used the platter for the first dinner he made for Mindy.

"He didn't just serve the spaghetti on it," she says. He put the platter, holding pasta and tomato sauce, in the microwave to heat the dinner, Mindy remembers.

"It reminds me of that time. I makes me happy," she says.

When decorating her home -- whether in Georgia, Hawaii or Germany -- Mindy fills her rooms and walls with items she loves.

She encourages other women to adapt the same strategy when shopping. "Find what speaks to you and buy it."

Explore markets, thrift stores, estate sales, shops and street vendors' booths to find good deals, Mindy says.

Here are a few more tips from Mindy:

For those uncomfortable bargaining with vendors: "Don't be intimidated. Don't show fear. Be confident. All they can do is say 'no'." Even when she gets a "no" she's likely to return and ask again. "Say 'would you take this' and go ridiculously low because they'll go up," she advises.

For table setting, she's not a fan of formality. "Use what you have. Don't get caught up in the rules. If you don't have water goblets, use brandy snifters."

For flower arrangements, she's not afraid to mix up real and artificial blooms. For her dining room centerpiece she often buys roses and then picks a few flowers from her yard to form a bouquet.

For holiday decorating, she doesn't use traditional colors. "People get too hung up red and green. Try pink. Use plaid napkins. Be creative," she says. Just because it's a holiday, doesn't mean you have to use your best dishes either. For larger family gatherings, she mixes "everyday" dishes in with china.

Mindy says, "My husband always says I have more Christmas decorations than Macy's and he's kind of right."

Fort Benning Tour of Homes

What: Tour 18 homes. It's open to the public, anyone 16 years old and older. Check in and get a map at Riverside, 100 Vibbert Ave.

When: 2-6 p.m. Dec. 2

Where: Fort Benning. Advance tickets may be purchased at Bit of Benning, building 229

Cost: $10