Thursday, September 20, 2012

Life's Lessons From a Virgo

Mama Virgo making notes in Baby E's journal on the day of his birth. She is the Queen of Documentation.

Today is Mama Virgo's birthday. She will be sixty-ish. She doesn't dye her hair, wear high heel shoes (or even dresses...seriously...last year she cleared her closet of every dress and skirt she owned and gave them away), paint her fingernails, cook (except she makes a MEAN filet and her mac and cheese isn't half-bad either), or drive the speed limit. But I love her for everything that she's not, as well as everything she is. And now that I'm a mom, too, I can appreciate even more the sacrifices she has made, the late hours she has kept, the attitude she has endured, and the heartbreak she has experienced over the past 34 years. Happy Birthday, Mama Virgo! Here are just a few of the lessons you've taught me over the years that I hope to pass down to our son: (Mama Virgo loves a list, too)

  • Don't let the trash build up in your car. If it came in with you, it goes back out (this saves on any embarrassment one feels when someone not related to you gets in for a ride). 
  • Time is money. If it's going to take you an absurd amount of time and you hate doing it anyway, considering making it a financial priority to pay someone else to do it. I feel this way about oil changes, clothing alterations, and computer repair. I will clean my own house, cook my own meals, make my own jewelry (obviously), and wash my own car...but please do not ask me to get intimate with the undercarriage of my Pathfinder. 
  • It ain't always about you. Oh LAWD this one was a hard one for me to learn. I'm an only child so, really, a lot of the time it was all about me. Especially at Papa and Granny's. But at home, I had to learn that I was not going to be consulted on every decision and that sometimes I would hear "no." E may not ever hear "no" at Big Mama's (it's her turn to do the spoilin' now), but it's my job to remind him that it ain't always about him. 
  • If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right (but not necessarily perfectly). Perfection was never the ideal, but laziness wasn't tolerated. Don't bring home C's when I'm fully capable of B's (except in math, where we all danced in delirious joy if I got anything above a D), when making breakfast, don't leave the dishes in the sink and the butter sitting on the counter, be sincere when writing inside a greeting card, dust under stuff...and on...and on...(related: Put stuff back where it came from and Don't be afraid to throw stuff away.)
  • Be Generous But Don't Be a Doormat. Mama Virgo is constantly saying yes. To mission projects at church and my pleas to drive down for the weekend and to the neighborhood kids selling wrapping paper at her door (which qualifies her for sainthood because who the crap wants wrapping paper? Now, if the schools sold Chardonnay...). She is generous with her time and her money. But she also has very strict boundaries that protect her from getting abused. Over the years, I've built my own fences (they aren't walls, but they do keep people out)...but only after getting used up and thrown out. I hope to teach E that it's an act of love to say yes, but sometimes it's an act of self-preservation to say no. 
  • Life is too short to drink bad wine, read boring books, build up vacation days, skip holidays with the family, and procrastinate happiness. Nuff said. 
  • It's OK to not put it on Facebook. Somehow, I think this one is going to be one of the more important lessons for E as he grows up in this digital age. Perhaps he and Mama Virgo should have a Come-to-Jesus on this one when the time is right. 
  • Life Isn't Fair. Another desperately difficult one for me to learn. To this day, when I think about the 2 little boys that should be living in the house, I have to remind myself that life isn't fair. But I've heard it for as long as I can remember. And however painful it is to be reminded, it's worth repeating. It made the sting of getting picked last in gym (and every injustice since) a little more palatable. 
  • Document, document, document. As the above picture demonstrates, Mama Virgo believes in documenting for our future generations. It's important to save scraps from moments in time (related: it's equally important to know what's a scrap and what's trash). She has saved all of my baby blankets, the newspaper from when UK won the National Championship the year I was born, report cards, voice recordings, and VCR tapes from middle school basketball games. It's no wonder I rushed right out and bought the newspaper the day after Obama was elected and I've kept journals since the 6th grade.
  • Above all, show love. Mom has always shown me love. Even when I slammed the bedroom door so hard it shook the walls...even when I moved away and got engaged to a man who made her blood boil (not Neal. Her love also helped show me the error of that way. She adores Neal. She sometimes asks about him before she asks about me). But she also shows love to others. She may not agree with their viewpoint or understand their motives, but she doesn't see that as a reason to show hate or disrespect. Everyone is deserving of our love. Even those f*ckers at Westboro Baptist. Even them. You need a lot of God in your life to show that much love. She's got God.
This is in no way an exhaustive list. You just can't bullet-point everything your mom teaches you.  And she is much more than a well-traveled, well-spoken, southern mama. But if I can just pass even a little of her wisdom and gentle spirit on to our son, I will consider it a good day.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rental Roulette

As it turns out, it really does take 6 full weeks to get yourself together after having a baby. Who knew?? I was all, "Oh let me just drop it like it's hot and I'll be right back in a jiffy." And then...I wasn't. I was tears and come-aparts and more joy than I ever thought possible and operating with less sleep than I ever thought possible. And everyone says, "sleep when he sleeps!" But then..when would I ever have time to blog?

So, about 10 days after E was born, Neal got a phone call from his career counselor letting him know that a spot in the school at Ft. Lee (Virginia, sorry...NOT New Jersey) had opened up. Neal was registered for the school in April, but there was now an opening for the December class. Like responsible partners in an equal opportunity marriage, we talked about it...and then I demanded he take it because I'm ready for 4 seasons again (number TWO on the List of Things I Never Thought I'd Hear Myself Say). During the second week of August, moving in November seemed so far away.'s less than 8 weeks and I'm trying to not come unglued about everything that still hasn't happened. On that list of unfinished tasks was finding housing. Lodging. A roof over our heads and a pot to piss in. You wouldn't think it would be that hard.

Let's take a little trip back to November, 2010. Neal had a 2 week class at Ft. Lee and I drove up for the last week to check out the post, do a little tree-hugger shopping in Richmond, and go see what all of the hub-bub was about Colonial Williamsburg (turns out, that really is a lute in his pocket, he is not happy to see you). I also stopped by the housing office to find out what our options were for on-post housing (I really do love hearing the Star Spangled Banner at 5 PM everyday, even though it is preceded by bugles that always wake the baby). I was told there is "ample space" with "tons of officer housing" and "no wait list" and "more houses being built." Excellent. We'll be back.

That, apparently, is not the case now. There is no more space, there is no officer housing, and there's a fatty little wait list. Somehow, one day we were #15 of 15 and the very next day we were #25 of 28. I don't even know how that's possible. So, that leaves us to find our own lodging in a short amount of time.

I turned to the Automated Housing Referral Network, which is a website available to military personnel. It lists property for rent (usually with pictures) by landlords that consider themselves military-friendly. There's usually some sort of discount for military personnel - a waived application fee or first month's rent free or something. In the first week of perusing rentals within our housing allowance budget of about $1300 (housing allowance is based on the region where you're stationed, not your rank. So everyone who lives in the Ft. Lee area gets the same housing allowance), I found the following train wrecks, clusterfudges, and all-out duds. Luckily, I also found a very lovely 1300 square foot, 3 bedroom apartment with a balcony and double bathroom sinks in a gated community. I think it will do just fine for 6 months. But before you can kiss the gate pass, you have to kiss some living room wood paneling...

For $800/month, you get (what I consider to be) a double-wide, one token tree, and a piece of sheet metal that's going to do a heartbreaking amount of damage to your car any time there's a gust of wind. $850/month to get a house that has been "renovated to meet today's code." If you are simply renovating your house to meet code, there's a good chance it falls far below my standard of living. I'm going out on a limb here and saying that there are probably not stainless steel appliances or a walk-in closet in this little charmer.

WAIT for it...ah..yes...the living room wood paneling and blue plush carpet. Who could ask for more? And all of this can be yours for the sweet little price of $1450/month. Let's just bear in mind that this is more than BAH for the area. We would have to come up with an additional $100 each month just for the pleasure of living like the Brady Bunch.

I also found this fantastic little bungalow. Only problem is, they've taken the "loft" look a bit too far (2 walls of the most). And it's $1400/month and the fireplaces are inoperable, according to the property description. If I'm paying over BAH for a house, it better have working fireplaces so our utility bill is less.

Just in case you thought the wood paneling was an isolated incident. It's not. You, too, can live in a lovely rectangle of fake wood for $1450/month. (I mean, really?? If your interior features unpainted paneling anywhere in the house, there's a pretty good chance that house is paid off. So maybe not be so greedy with the rent. I could live with paneling for $900/month. Anything over is just a sin.)

$1500/MONTH gets you a house with its own ghost. Oh's just someone who's in too much of a damn hurry to wait until the room is empty to take a picture that will advertise the house for rent. If you can't take a decent picture of a room, you don't get my rent check.

It gets better. $1700/month will afford you white appliances. I know stainless sometimes feels very 2010. And they rust. And it's impossible to clean them of fingerprints. But seriously. For $1700, give me steel.

On the other side of things, you can pay $700/month and get this house, with a master bedroom that is seemingly a converted garage (what IS that rail at the top near the ceiling??), complete with tile floor and cinder block walls. Perfect for the escaped convict who is homesick for C Block.

And for $695, you can get a house with this view. I would love to show you the house, but this is the only picture posted with the description. I wouldn't at all be surprised if the rental was actually a tent. Or a teepee. Or maybe a lean-to. So many options that don't require actual brick and mortar.

And last but not least, for $700/month, you can rent a ROOM in this charming little rancher. You would think $700 would get you the whole house, but you would be wrong. You might also think the property owner is very hip and savvy and has Instagrammed this picture to appeal to the younger generation. You would be wrong there, too.

Not included:
1. The GORGEOUS house in downtown Petersburg that rents for $1500 (think Charleston, SC 2-story with porches meets IKEA/Pottery Barn decor), but I'm pretty sure is haunted by Civil War soldiers singing. (Yes, I believe everything I read from a Google search).

2. The hot mess of a property photo taken in the living room, where they tried to cram in every Queen Anne piece they owned + a pack n' play + a plaid couch + 2 cats + 3 people. I can only assume their target market is clowns and they want to show how much will fit into just one room of the house.

3. The house where the featured selling point was a brass and glass light fixture.

4. The sweet little joint where we'll be living. Because sometimes people be crazy. 

I still get on AHRN a couple times a week just to see if The Perfect House has been posted. I have a feeling it doesn't exist.