In the midst of our first PCS, Jonathan and I are also celebrating our first official blended holiday season as a married bi-religious couple. Hanukkah was a big blur of packing, stuffed turkey, and candle wax this year, but the lack of Jewish celebration didn’t bother me much; Hanukkah isn’t a very religious holiday, so I’m riding the success of our engagement Hanukkah for at least five years.
But now that it’s Christmastime, we’re doing everything we can to make the season merry and bright, despite being stuck in a hotel room through the new year.
One of the first struggles I anticipated with our PCS was finding civilian housing in California. The Army provides BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) to supplement a soldier’s regular salary; without this supplement, it is impossible for a soldier and his one-income family to live anywhere grander than a cardboard box in a Walmart parking lot. And not the nice Walmart.
The rate for BAH is based on a soldier’s location, rank, and dependents. You can apply for on-post/on-base military housing and surrender your BAH each month, or you can search for off-post housing within your BAH budget. In Fort Campbell, finding affordable, convenient, off-post housing within this budget was not a problem; we had our pick amongst the majority of housing complexes in the area. And while I know that housing in California is pricier than in rural Kentucky, I was hoping the BAH rate for Monterey would rise to be comparable. Between this hope and my extreme skill at finding affordable housing on a small salary in an unaffordable city (I’m looking at you, District of Columbia), I was up to the challenge.
After several months of this challenge, however, we started to feel more mentally challenged than anything.
For whatever reason, the BAH rate for the Monterey area leaves a relatively small selection of housing; in our price range, we were mostly reduced to Craigslist ads posted by middle-aged men/probably serial killers who were renting out their pool sheds as housing. And although some of those sheds were admittedly pretty big for being sheds, none of them promised that the landlord was not, in fact, a serial killer. And, more importantly, none of them allowed pets. Apparently serial killers have serious dander allergies.
We were avoiding applying for military housing not because we’re elitist, self-hating assholes, but because we’d been warned up and down that the commute from the military housing to Jonathan’s work is hellish. One hour or more of bumper-to-bumper freeway hell is something I’ve done every morning and evening for a year or so, and I’d wish it on someone I hate, but not on my new husband who I haven’t been married to long enough yet to hate. Even having anticipated the prices and pet problems (thanks again for the disillusionment, D.C.), we found ourselves very close to our move date, and with no solid housing prospects. So, at that point, we bit the gridlock bullet and applied for military housing.
The good news is that, after a week or two on the waiting list, housing became available for us. The bad news is that the housing will not be available until early January.
This is somewhat of a common PCS problem, so I wasn’t surprised when it cropped up for us. But I won’t pretend our hearts didn’t sink a little when we realized our first holiday season together would be celebrated from a hotel, with most of our belongings and accumulated holiday decorations packed away somewhere in storage. I reminded myself that the holidays in a small room, together, versus the holidays separated by several continents and a war zone was a marked improvement. And then I spent a weekend Christmas-ing the shit out of one corner in our hotel room.
With a small room and a small budget (one month at even a military-rate hotel really puts a dent in the wallet), I went for simple and space-efficient. And sparkly.
Making a third stocking…for the dog…was clearly an afterthought. And a really sad comment about my life.
Though I’m used to a Southern California childhood where white Christmases only happened on TV, Jonathan already seems a bit homesick for the snow and ice that usually mark his holidays. Luckily it reached a balmy 58 degrees in Central California yesterday, so winter is totally on the way.
The reality of our move sinks in a little more every day, but it hasn’t completely hit yet; for now we’re stuck in this hotel-room limbo, like we’re on a strange Christmas vacation where calories don’t matter so mostly we’re eating peppermint bark and cookies as meals. That probably won’t catch up with us.
But we’re happy to be together, and to have survived the first part of our PCS. And the dog is overjoyed, if hesitant about our motives, to no longer be in the car.
What are your favorite tips and tricks for holiday decorating in small spaces and/or on a small budget?