Monday, June 6, 2016

The Next Chapter Begins: Choteau, Montana

I must say, we are all loving life up here in Choteau, Montana. It's a great little town in an absolutely beautiful part of the country. The weather is gorgeous! Most days it doesn't get hotter than the mid-70's; some days it doesn't get past the high 60's. It actually feels quite a bit like an Alaskan summer, but with less mosquitoes! Two years ago, moving from Alaska to southeast Kansas while rather pregnant made for what felt like the hottest summer of my life. Moving from that hot Kansas humidity up to this dry, fresh, cool air while rather pregnant has been bliss! Aaron loves it no less than I do. For, him, just breathing the air up here feels like home. He is one happy, thoroughly contented man!

During the first week here, we were blessed to have my parents around to help us unpack and settle in. Grandpa made sure to include a little exploring to keep things interesting. He took Xander fishing at the nearby river, but all Xander caught were 4 crawdads, 3 of which were smart enough to escape. The remaining poor little fellow had the privilege of amazing a crowd with the fact that he turned from muddy brown to bright red when boiled. Xander and Grandpa thought the tiny morsels were delicious.

While Grandma and Grandpa were here, we discovered a few other things, as well. For one, that we were blessed to move into a wonderfully welcoming ward. With open arms, meals, treats, and people dropping by to introduce themselves, they welcomed us days before we even got to go to Church to meet everyone. It's so nice to feel wanted and needed! While it's not quite literally true that our family doubled the primary, it's pretty close, at least on weeks like today when some regulars are on vacation and no visitors are there. Today we had 9 kids in all of primary, junior and senior meeting together, and 4 of them were Dahles (plus, out of the 2 Nursery kids there today, one was a little Dahle). Aaron was substituting for the regular senior primary teacher (yes, all of senior primary meets together in one Valiant class) today and the only kids in class were Xander and Elodie! I happen to know these specifics because I was called a couple weeks ago to the same calling I had in our last ward: Second Counselor in the Primary Presidency! Primary is such a fun place to be. And as an added bonus, since junior and senior meet together during the second block, primary leaders get to go to Relief Society!


We also discovered how nice and generous our neighbors are when they offered us their lawn furniture and folding table and chairs while we waited for our furniture to arrive. And we discovered our cozy little library that kept the kids in books while they awaited their personal collection.

On the day the moving truck arrived and the crew unloaded our truck, it was so nice to have Grandma and Grandpa off entertaining the kids as they explored the Dinosaur Museum, library, park, and ice cream parlor! I tried to figure out where everything from our 4-level house with lots of storage would go in this little house with limited storage. By using up every bit of room in our allotted half of the detached garage and utilizing the second kitchen in the basement as our food storage room, we were able to fit everything in fairly well. In fact, I'd say we fit pretty cozily in here. The tightest fit is our dining room table in the little kitchen eating area, but as long as the person sitting in front of the fridge is flexible about moving if you forgot the salad dressing and the skinny little kids are in the back by the wall, we discovered that we can fit our family and two guests around the table. "A house filled with love has elastic walls," as a wise woman once said.

I'm so grateful that we found this affordable house that is big enough for our family and stuff (over 21,000 pounds of stuff!! Unbelievable!). We can stay here as long as we need to while we save up and look for just the right house for our family to settle in to for the long haul. My favorite part about the house is that it's right in town, close enough to walk or ride bikes to the library, school, pool, grocery store, church, scout hall, tire shop, and most everywhere. The town has such a great, safe, family-friendly feel that after only being here a week, I felt just fine about having Xander bike himself to and from basketball camp at the school 3 blocks away. He bikes himself to scouts on Tuesdays, he and Elodie bike together to swim team daily, and they biked together to Church one week. It simplifies my life so nicely to have them transporting themselves to activities, and they've taken the responsibility on beautifully! Speaking of beautiful, check out how clear this water is!

Aaron, Grandpa, and most of the kids went out fishing and exploring the beautiful reservoirs around us while my mom and I unpacked and turned the heap of boxes and furniture into a cozy home. We are all feeling settled and happy here in rural Montana!


(Written on July 17 in an attempt to catch up!)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Attic Finishing

When we were house hunting in Independence, Kansas, the potential of this attic space

was a big selling point for us. So we bought this beautiful, old, brick house

and got to work on making the attic a dream-come-true 4th bedroom-clubhouse for the older kids. Well, Aaron did. I was like this

so I just dreamed and surfed the internet for pictures of beautiful finished attics like this

The morning of the day this little guy arrived on the scene,

Aaron was doing some exploration in the attic, and as he tore out a kneewall, he also cut off power to 75% of the lights in the house. Awesome. I'm in labor so let's go to the hospital and we'll deal with that later. With the updating of 1930's knob-and-tube wiring suddenly bumped to first on the old house priority list,

 finishing the attic was not something he could make time for right away. The attic had to wait with all of his other time demands: being an excellent dad,

monthly weekend Guard Duty,

monthly temple trips,

monthly visits to his family in Texas to see his sweet mom who was suffering from pancreatic cancer,

campouts with the YM,

and working one Saturday a month at the clinic. All that left the attic still looking like this

We hired local Lee's Cooling to install an air conditioner up there. But even after they were done, it was still SO HOT up there! They blamed it on the lack of insulation. Based on a YouTube idea, Aaron decided to frame in additional 2x4s to increase the depth potential of insulation, and thus its R-value. So framing began. Progress was SLOW. Wires had to be run and lights and outlets planned and prepared for. Finally, over a year later, it was ready for insulation. Aaron was ready to hire that job out, too, but we couldn't even find a local guy willing to take on the job. A great deal on some stiff foam insulation fell into our laps

so Aaron manned up, as usual, with his trusty sidekick Xander, who did not relish the hot, sweaty, itchy job but definitely learned a LOT!

Again, progress was SLOW.

Then we felt like it was the right time for us to fulfill Aaron's dream of moving to Montana to settle down and raise our family. In the slow real estate market of our little town, we didn't think that a work-in-progress (AKA hideous construction zone) of an attic would sell the house, so we threw balance to the wind and Aaron devoted all of his spare time to actually finishing that attic! As the moving date neared and he had only hung a few sheets of drywall, reality hit so we hired the wonderful Jeff and Vance to finish drywalling for us. They finished the Saturday before the moving truck was scheduled to arrive (on  a Tuesday). Then we had to paint, clean up the construction zone floors, put a railing on the stairs, and install all of the recessed lights and outlets. The goal was to finish all of that up on Wednesday, Aaron's birthday, and then drive out Thursday morning.

Thanks to the Xander & Elodie, the missionaries, and some selfless friends, we nearly got the drywall mud scraped and scrubbed off of the floor. It was far from perfect, and there was no time to actually stain and finish the cool old wood floor, but we did all we could and we'd have to be OK with what we could do. For the first time, I can honestly say "we" because on Aaron's birthday, I actually chipped in with some personal elbow grease up there instead of just consultation (since the moving truck had come the day before, I was totally done with all of the packing) and experienced for myself just how miserable the working conditions were in that hot, humid, filthy attic. Heat rash, puffy allergy eyes, and utter exhaustion (apparently, I'm a bit of a wimp, though in my defense, I am in my 3rd trimester)

really made me appreciate how dutifully Aaron just mans up without complaint to get it done! Let me just say, I did not marry a WIMP! I love this guy--I am so very very thankful for him!

Sadly, Aaron did not get the one birthday present he wished for: that all of his work on the electrical piece on his birthday would just please come together so that when he flipped the magical switch, there would be light. At 11:30pm, he was finally ready for the moment of truth. He flipped a switch, and no light. He flipped another switch and there was a flicker as brief as lightning, then nothing. The final switch: nothing. Calmly troubleshooting with his tired brain and exhausted body got us no where. But we were supposed to move out the next morning!!! Oh no!! In frustration, I texted my mom. She texted back some wise counsel that we gratefully followed: get some sleep and leave a day later. That extra day proved to be just what we needed. Aaron discovered that the drywallers had indeed drywalled right over an outlet, preventing the circuit from completing. After a little exploration (AKA cutting) into the brand new drywall, he found that hiding outlet and was able to get some lights on. Another circuit was overloaded--in his characteristic "go-big-or-go-home" style, he had simply installed too many lights for the space, you know, to make sure that it didn't feel like a dark cave up there any more. So after removing half of the lights (yes, leaving recessed holes in the ceiling), those lights worked, too. We ran out of time to trouble shoot the lights in the last dormer area, but were in the right frame of mind to accept that we'd done all we could and were just out of time. We didn't get it perfectly finished or staged for selling our house like I'd hoped, but what we accomplished felt pretty awesome, and we enjoyed tucking our kids into bed in the attic on our really, truly final night in Kansas. It felt beautiful up there to us after all we'd put into it, and we enjoyed a lovely last night in our nearly empty house.

Imagine that the built-in twin bed has an actual mattress on it and that there are books and a cute little lamp on the shelf.

I'm sure that this window seat reading nook would have quickly become Elodie's favorite spot in the house!


Imagine Xander's bed there where the old attic fan is in the before picture, and a sweet Lego Land in that big, open area to the left.

Aren't those lit up lights a beautiful sight? Just ignore those extra round holes in the ceiling. And the white drywall mud residue on the floor; we're pretending it gives it a rustic white-washed look.

We all loved how it turned out and were sad to leave it behind, but so happy to have a cool space up there to help sell the house! When our realtor came to take pictures of the attic on Aaron's birthday (and I was kind of an emotional wreck at the moment because it was not done at all and things just weren't coming together despite all of our blood, sweat, and tears), she was able to look past the construction-zone residue and tools and empty paint cans everywhere. She was impressed enough that she said she didn't think we needed to lower the price of the house to generate interest, after all. Woohoo! She likes it! Cindy likes it! That helped my emotional state considerably.

(Note: In fact, just two days after arriving in Choteau, Montana, our realtor called to tell us we'd received a full price offer! We had only had one showing in the previous 7 weeks, then we finished the attic and actually got an offer! It was such a miracle and we felt so incredibly blessed!)

(Written on July 10 in an effort to catch up!)