Friday, January 28, 2011


If you think Montana's No Fun, you haven't tried Montana's Snow Fun!
Our first weekend here, we went sledding with Uncle Bill, Chelsea, and Jordan. Aunt Melody was nice enough to take baby duty so I could get in on the fun, too. OK, Uncle Bill didn't actually sled per se, but he did drag us around for a pretty wild ride behind his 4-wheeler (to avoid the trudge-up-the-hill piece of sledding--we didn't want to risk getting any exercise).
Xander and Elodie declared it the most fun EVER. (They do that a lot. They're really good at living in the moment.) Aaron and I couldn't get enough of their hysterical laughter as Uncle Bill towed them around and around the loop. It was priceless.
Aaron has been enjoying the luxury of not working on Saturdays. (It's been YEARS since he actually had real weekends. Having to be at work at 6:30 Saturday mornings kinda put a damper on Friday night. But no more.) Xander's been enjoying it, too. A couple weeks ago in family counsel, Xander informed us that one thing we could do to make our family better was for Dad to build a snow fort with him on Saturday. He looked forward to it all week. And this tunnel-like fort with its two entrances did not disappoint. (Although he was a little disappointed today when he discovered that the wind had completely erased their fort. I tell you what, the wind sure does blow up here!)
Xander has gotten to be a pro at putting on his snow gear--he does it 5 times a day! Wearing full snow gear on the bus and at recess is a must.
Elodie doesn't venture out as much as her fearless brother who seems to not even notice the cold. She's pretty happy to hang out with me and Hazel where it's warm.
But today, it was actually above freezing! Elodie joined Xander outside when the bus dropped him off and they had fun sliding down the snow drifts and just tromping around in the deep stuff.
I generally prefer to stay inside and enjoy the views. This is what we see through the huge windows by the kitchen table--aahhhh, the tranquil life.
I must say I am impressed with how well the county maintains our dirt road. I see the trucks out there plowing almost daily. And they have some serious snow plows out here! They look nothing like the ones you see on the streets of Denver.

Winter is definitely winter up here and we are loving it!

I love it here!

This is where we are so blessed to live right now.We walked into the house, having just left "the room," and I saw this beautiful, spacious, open kitchen and great room--WOW!
My favorite past time is keeping myself warm by cooking and baking the day away right here in this beautiful kitchen. I think I've already used over 15 pounds of flour. I wish I could say that I've baked more cookies, brownies, muffins, and breads than we can eat. But it seems we have no problem with the eating it part.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to our extremely generous nephew! I don't know if we'll ever be able to repay him for this, but it sure inspires us to "pay it forward!" Or as it says in one of my favorite hymns, "Because I have been given much, I too must give."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When in Montana, eat like a Montanan

What's for dinner? In the last week or so, we've had:

Pheasant Noodle Soup
Elk Pot Pie
Stromboli with Elk Italian Sausage
Roast Beast and Gravy with Mashed Potatoes
Chili con Wild Carne
Minestrone with Elk Garlic Sausage
Pepper-Cheese Elk Steak Sandwiches

Feeling adventurous? Drop in anytime for dinner. We've got Pheasant Enchiladas and Cabbage Casserole with Elk Meatballs coming up on the menu!

Those of you who know my vegetarian tendencies may be shocked. But those of you who know my frugal tendencies won't. Aaron's brother who lives up here is the Great White Hunter; he got a HUGE elk this season and told us we were welcome to as much as we could eat. Thanks, Bill! When you're trying to keep your grocery budget down in a small town where groceries are pricier, you can't beat free! And don't knock it 'til you try it--it's all gotten rave reviews from this crowd!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Alexander the Academically Adaptable

Xander is now attending the third public school of his short academic career. He started out at Yale Elementary School with Ms. Parker. She was a wonderful teacher—she was great at challenging Xander while still letting him just be a kid.

His reading and math buddy, Brenner, had become his best buddy and Xander was sad to leave.

And I was sad to no longer be able to say proudly that I had a son attending Yale (not to mention a son on a mission--don't I sound old?). J I also loved the diversity in his class, where no one seemed to be a minority or majority.

But Melayna’s neighborhood school offered something tantalizing that Aurora public had just gotten rid of: half-day kindergarten. I let Xander choose. “Should I stay or should I go now?” After impressing his parents by putting the question to the Lord in a very mature prayer, he chose Timberline Elementary. He quickly made a new best buddy, Matthew, who was both a school and a church friend, making him doubly cool. Mrs. Gedde was great at making school fun. They didn’t have time for “Specials” since they were only half day, but she more than made up for it with lots of fun kindergarten projects like painting and cutting and pasting. You know how Xander loves his projects! With Thanksgiving and Christmas in there, Xander only went to Timberline for 4 ½ weeks.

Then it was on to Montana.

E: Can I type my name? PLEEEEEEEASE?!

M: OK, go ahead.


E: Mom, there’s tons of Xanders on there! Why does it say that?

M: Because I’m writing about Xander’s school.

E: Oh. Can I type my name again? It’ll be so exciting!

M: I guess.


E: Now can you put a red line on there?

(I do that by pushing the space bar—it’s underlined in red because spell check thinks I spelled it wrong. Xander too. That’s probably what made all the Xanders stand out to her in here.)

E: Write something about me, not just Xander.

M: What do you want me to write about you?

E: Say, “Elodie stays home with Hazel. And that she loves Hazel.”

(Oh yeah, that's why I usually blog after the kids are in bed!)

OK, back to Montana. Elodie’s letting me type again while she does my hair. On Tuesday we went to the Sidney District Administration office, which is just the front office of Central Elementary School in Sidney. They told us that we’re in Fairview DISTRICT, not in Sidney District. I was shocked that little Fairview (population about 800, I think) has it’s own school district. But Sidney said they’d love to have us come there, and that it really didn’t matter to them if we were outside their boundaries, they just wouldn’t be able to send a bus to our door like they would if we were in district. But they really wanted to have us, so they said they’d try to work something out for us transportation-wise and give us a call back. Well, we thought the convenience of a school bus coming right to our house sounded pretty good, and if we were supposed to be in Fairview, why not check it out and make our choice? So we headed over to Fairview School. The whole Fairview DISTRICT is just one school, K-12, so the admissions are just taken care of at the school office there. After trying to locate our country road on a map, Fairview told us that we were in Sidney District, but that they’d love to have us at Fairview. We felt like Xander was being recruited! When we told them that Sidney insisted we were in Fairview Schools, they took another look and said, “Well, maybe you are then.” I asked if they had a bus that went out that far, and they said they’d just add us to Paul’s route. (In the city, they tell you that you’ll be on Bus #708. In the country, they say, “Oh, that’s Paul’s bus!”) Aaron and I looked at each other and decided right there to just go with Fairview. I mean, hey, Aaron went to that very school from Kindergarten to 12th grade! You can’t compete with that kind of nostalgia. Sorry, Sidney. It was quite nostalgic for him to be back. Aaron even ran into his old 5th grade teacher. And one of his classmates that he’d gone to school with his whole life was the secretary who was taking care of everything for us. “Xander will start tomorrow, right?” I reminded her that I didn’t have Xander’s birth certificate or immunization record with me, and I wasn’t sure how immediately his last school would fax his records. They didn’t care at all about silly little details like that. If we said that his name was Xander and that he was 5 years old, that was good enough for them. They’d take care of the rest. The lack of bureaucracy was refreshing! (It took three trips to the Cherry Creek Schools Admissions Office, one with Melayna accompanying me in person, multiple proof of address documents, a trip to my bank, and a stack of paperwork to get Xander registered at Timberline!) Before we knew it the whole family was on a tour of the school, meeting his new teacher, Mrs. Holst, and checking out the huge mountain of snow on the playground. (Where they have recess as long as it’s 0 degrees or above. So you’d better wear your full snow suit to school every day because chances are, you’re going outside! In Colorado, they have indoor recess if it’s below 20 degrees. And they just watch a movie. Out here, they get to run around in the “old gym” when it’s indoor recess. I love it! Guess what? Xander has already had indoor recess twice, meaning the high those days didn’t even reach zero. Yikes!)

Later that evening when we were at Bill and Melody’s house celebrating Dexter’s birthday, we were telling them that Xander would be starting at Fairview school the next day. Their youngest son, Jordan, still goes there. He’s the star of the varsity football team. And both Jordan and Chelsea remembered Paul well--he’d been their bus driver for years. This Paul fellow was supposed to be giving us a call to let us know when he’d be by to get Xander in the morning, but we hadn’t heard from him yet. Aaron’s cell phone reception is pretty patchy out here, so we weren’t sure if we’d actually get that call. Bill thought we oughtta just call him right up. Before we knew it, Chelsea had the phone book out and was on the phone telling Paul that her little cousin was now on his bus route. After Bill described to him just how far out we live, Paul said he’d be there around 7:05. Melody suggested that I ride the bus with Xander on his first day. That never would have occurred to me—I don’t think they let moms do that in the city. It sounded like a great idea to Xander, so I climbed aboard Wednesday morning. Xander is the first one on the bus. By far. This Paul definitely had to go out of his way to get us. And guess what we saw right as we were driving back down our country road to the Highway? A Sidney School Bus. Yep, we’re definitely supposed to be in Sidney District, but Paul didn’t seem to care and we think it’s fun that Xander is going to Dad’s old school, so too late now! After about 15 or 20 minutes, a couple of high school girls got on. The sun was just coming up, and the drive was really quite beautiful. On one road, there were six deer running down the road, right in front of the bus. Paul slowed way down and followed them until they finally leapt off of the road into the trees. We wound around some more and a few chatty elementary school girls got on, filling me in on all of the goings on at Fairview School. This little first-grader told me impressively, “There are TWO kindergarten classes!” Her tone of voice indicated that this was quite a novelty at Fairview school—having two teachers in the same grade! She said there’s only one first grade teacher, and there are 16 kids in her class. There are 14 in each of the kindergarten classes. Sounds like quite a boom in comparison! As we were chatting, we felt the bus slip and slide a bit. Paul had gone a couple miles down this particular snow-packed dirt road, and its condition was getting worse. “I’m not sure if I can get through this road today. I’m going to go check it out.” So Paul climbed off of the bus and walked out ahead down the road a hundred yards or so to the crest of the hill. When he got back on the bus, he declared that he couldn’t make it, but he also had nowhere to turn around right there. So he began backing up. He backed down the road for a mile or so before he got to an oil well where an area big enough for a bus to turn around was cleared. Then he got on his CB to tell the school that he couldn’t make it to these kids and would they please call them to let them know. Riding the bus was quite an adventure, definitely a worthwhile country experience! I’m so glad Melody thought of it! It’s kind of a long bus ride for him, about 50 minutes each way, but I guess that’s just part of the experience.

When he got home from school that first day, he told us he’d already made some friends. I’m so grateful that he’s an adaptable guy! Adjusting has been no big deal to him. (He was even invited to a birthday party at the Sidney gymnastics center that first week. People here are SO NICE. We all had a great time at the party—the kid’s mom let Elodie stay, so I hung out there, too, and got to meet the moms of Xander’s classmates.) He loves Mrs. Holst and she’s been great at trying to find just the right reading level to stretch Xander without discouraging him. They have Specials twice a day and three recesses, as well as daily snack time and resting time on mats a couple times a week. It is very kindergarteny and fun and Xander says school was, “Great!” everyday. His only complaint? “I wish school was half day.” Not that he doesn’t like it while he’s at school, he just loves having blocks of time to play with his Legos and do as he pleases. School is once again cramping his style. J His bus ride is so long that he doesn’t get home until just after 4:00. Plus, he has to wake up way earlier than before (6:30 instead of 7:30 or 8:00—Yale didn’t start until 9:35) so after dinner it’s pretty much right into the bedtime routine. He really only has an hour of Lego time. Sorry, bud, those leisurely preschool days are behind you! Although when we go back to Colorado in May for Aaron's two weeks of wrap-up seminars and graduation, I don't think it's worth it to re-register Xander in school there for the last few weeks of school. So he'll get to knock off early and enjoy an extra long summer before embarking on his next elementary school adventure who knows where!

Saturday, January 15, 2011


For almost 4 years, we were quite settled. We lived in our own house and had great friends, nice neighbors, and a terrific ward.

In the summer we started looking ahead to Aaron’s graduation in May 2011 and the relocation that would entail. We decided to try to sell our house. In this market, we figured we’d need it to have some time on the market. As my sisters helped us pack up clutter and stage our house, things began to feel a smidge less settled. The slide, basketball hoop, play kitchen, and toy basket had to vanish from the family room. When the kids were looking for their toys, they started to ask accusingly, “Is it in storage or did you sell it?” A new baby was on her way, yet we were disassembling the crib and changing table and tucking the baby tub, pack ’n’ play, and all things baby into the crawl space. Getting unready for a new baby was a bit unsettling, going completely against any nesting instinct.

Well, the house didn’t sell, apparently because we have power lines behind it. (So sorry, we’ll have those moved for you.) Just before Halloween, some friends from our ward called to see if we’d be willing to rent the house instead. We said that we didn’t really want to be landlords. Then we prayed about it and felt like the opportunity was a blessing. So we called them back and said, “only kidding, we’d love to rent it to your friends who want to move in tomorrow! But can you give us a week?” So we madly got a storage unit and began shoving heaps of stuff into it in a rather hurried and harried way. We sold and gave away nearly all of our furniture. I needed it to go fast so I listed it for super cheap on Craigslist. Only minutes after I clicked “Post” I had a phone call, and less than an hour later, a lady had come and cleaned out our entire family room and living room. We had only made the decision to move out a day before and I was already standing in a completely empty room. That’s when it finally sunk in: we were actually moving. Leaving our friends and family behind. Leaving our house. It was our first house, and we (OK, mostly Aaron) had worked so hard to really make it ours! I realized how much I was going to miss it! What a great 4 years we’d enjoyed there. I stood in our barren front room and just started to cry.

Before I knew it, our week was over and we were moving in to Melayna’s unfinished basement. Living with Melayna was pretty much a nonstop party. The only disadvantage was sleep deprivation, really. It was great to spend the entire Christmas season with her and Katy. You might think that November 6 isn’t the Christmas season yet, but at Melayna’s house, it’s in full swing! We had the tree up and decorated before we’d even been there a week! We pretty much took over her house; she is so generous and made us feel as at home as we could possibly be. For the first couple weeks, we kept going to our old ward that I LOVE because I was the primary chorister and the Primary Program was November 21. Then we were in Texas for Church the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and at my parents’ ward the day after Christmas to hear Ashley play the cello, so we only popped in to Melayna’s ward for 3 Sundays. I felt like a visitor even though we really were official, records and all. All of this gave us a bit of a transient, unsettled feeling. Not to mention the living-with-your-storage feeling we had going on down in that basement! We officially have too much stuff!

Our time with Melayna flew by. Before we knew it, it was time to head north to Montana for Aaron’s 4-month rural rotation. Even as we drove out New Year’s Day, we still didn’t quite know where we were going to be living up here. The hospital had told us they had a free apartment available to us. Well free sounded pretty good, so we were planning on making it work, even though they warned us that it was small. An email a week before we were heading out provided some details that made me wonder if it was so doable. They had called it a "small apartment," but from the description, I could tell it was really just a hotel room. No bedroom, no kitchen. I began to wonder, “How can I live like that with 3 kids through a Montana winter? How will I feed my family on a daily basis? My only real hobby is cooking. What will I do all the time without a kitchen?” It sounded crazy and my family tried to convince me to just stay in Colorado and let Aaron have the Montana adventure by himself. But back in November, we had fasted and prayed about our Montana living situation, and as we continued to pray about it, I felt peace. I knew it would work out, even if I didn’t yet know how. I felt reassured that we wouldn’t all have to squish into “the room” for the entire 4 months. So off we went. We (OK, Aaron) stuffed everything we could fit into the back of the Excursion and drove north. It was 10:30 at night and we were still a couple hours from Sidney (Montana, not Australia), so we decided to stop at a lovely EconoLodge in Miles City. Just after we’d gotten the kids settled into their beds, Aaron got a text from his nephew (the one who lives in Sidney but spends his winters in California with his bees) saying that the random South African dude who was living in his house wasn’t coming back, so his house was available and we were welcome to use it for the winter. We felt so completely grateful that we couldn’t (and still can’t) quite express it. Isn’t having the support of a loving extended family the best? We love our family!

Sunday we went to Church in Miles City, Montana, where we were visitors once again. As were hanging up our coats, I heard someone call out exuberantly, “Aaron Dahle!” It was a guy Aaron had grown up with in the Sidney ward. He and his wife invited us over for dinner after Church and made us feel right at home. Aaron felt especially at home to be back in Montana where the men think like he does. Survival! I guess you can take a man out of Montana but you can’t take Montana out of a man.

After a lovely afternoon with them, we made the rest of the drive to Sidney. We decided to stay the night in “the room.” It was everything we were afraid it would be. One room with a full-sized bed, a recliner, a small microwave, a fridge the size of an average microwave, and a small bathroom with a standing shower. We used the little microwave to heat up some canned soup we'd gotten Saturday night in preparation for Sunday. We may or may not have forgotten spoons in that preparation.

I sat on the bed at 8:30 silently reading while the kids were supposed to be falling asleep. The bedside lamp seemed to be keeping the kids awake. So I tried reading with a flashlight. Then Hazel woke up just as the kids were finally drifting off. I tried to quiet her before the kids woke up, but it didn’t work. So I retucked them in bed before feeding Hazel in the dark, since my balancing-a-flashlight-to-allow-me-to-keep-reading-while-nursing skills are not quite up to par. As I sat in the dark room, I felt so relieved to know that I didn't have to try to cheerfully make this set up work for the five us us all winter!

We moved into Christopher’s house on Monday morning and have settled in quite nicely. When we walked in and saw the beautiful, spacious kitchen connected to a big open great room, I felt like it would be pretty easy to feel at home here! What could be better than baking the frigid winter away in a newly remodeled kitchen?

We are only going to be here for four months, and we have no idea where we’re going after May, but somehow, we’re feeling more settled than we have in a long time.