Sunday, July 14, 2019

Bontrager Extended Family Pictures May 2019

Back earlier this year, we siblings started brainstorming about a surprise Fathers/Mothers Day gift for our parents. We discussed several ideas and finally settled on a professional photo shoot with the whole clan! There hadn't been a professional group photo done with everyone since John's and my wedding, and with four new little members of the extended Bontrager tribe, it was high time for an update! 
Fun facts: We four "young couples" got married within a four month span, and the four babies were born within eight months from oldest to youngest! 
Just a little PDA...
All them handsome men..
...and the lovely ladies.
Have you EVER seen anything QUITE so adorable in your whole life?!?
I sure haven't. 
It's not every couple that gets their first four grandbabies within eight months. 
Special special.
And then, our little Maxwell family!
Axton was a champ and remained generally quite chill throughout the entire shoot!
His little hands just slayyyyy me. 
I'd like to crop this one and submit it to some photo contest or something because THIS CHILD!! 
It was a big feat to work with multiple schedules and weather and everything, not to mention babies. But it was SO worth it. I know we will all treasure these pictures for years to come, and not one of us regret the commitment to make it happen. 
Let me encourage you, friends-having your family/memories captured in this way is a decision you will never regret! 
And I'm pretty sure almost any parent loves having pictures of their offspring in all one place at one time. Consider gifting a professional photoshoot next time you need a gift idea for your parents/inlaws!

Hope y'all are enjoying a restful weekend!
-Chels

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Birth Story of Axton John


This is the story of the arrival of our little firstborn son, Axton John Maxwell. The details of his entrance into the world had unexpected developments and more trauma than we anticipated, but they were laced throughout with the grace and goodness of Jesus. God was so so good to us in protecting and watching over our little man. Truly we are so blessed...

Wednesday, January 23rd was my due date. I had a midwife appointment that day and my midwife confirmed what I was already thinking: "it's going to be awhile yet!". I had had not a single contraction (except a few Braxton Hicks back in December) and I was feeling quite energetic and normal. Thursday seemed like the perfect day to deep-clean the garage. (I had all the nesting feels going on!) That was the last real thing on my "do before baby comes" mental list, and once that was completed I felt like I was truly and really ready.
(Friday morning)

Friday, my sis in love Elissa had planned a birthday lunch + shopping out with me, since we both knew that most likely I could have the baby the week of my birthday. (which was the following week) Again, I felt great, and enjoyed walking around the outlet mall at the Legends and eating our favorite (Chipotle!) for lunch. We got home around 6pm and I excitedly dumped all of my purchases on my desk in the office and showed them off to John.

I left his office and five minutes later, my water broke. Apparently there is nothing like a full day of shopping to kick things in gear?!
(last "normal" pregnancy picture I snapped right before we left for Walmart)

We were so excited-finally, baby was on its way! Still, not a single contraction, but I knew they were surely soon to come, so I hurried around getting dinner, and we planned to head to Walmart right after for some snacks/etc for the weekend. As we drove into the parking lot, I had my first contraction. I didn't tell John about it because I wasn't positive that it WAS a contraction, but twenty minutes later I felt the exact same thing, only stronger, and I realized that this was the real deal!

Once we got home we headed to bed. By this point I had had several contractions, but they weren't very painful, and were spaced apart, and since I was fully expecting a long, drawn-out labor, we figured I'd get a good nights' sleep before everything really got going.

I think I must've slept on and off for the first two hours, but it really didn't feel like I slept at all. Contractions kept coming closer and closer together, and getting more and more painful. I have a very high pain tolerance so I was fine for awhile, but around midnight they started getting so intense that I was having to breathe heavily through them, and was having a hard time doing so quietly. I didn't want to wake John, so I slipped out of bed and went out to the couch in the living room. From there things really progressed, to the point that I was moaning so loudly that John woke up and came to see how I was doing. It was about 2am by this time. He got out his phone with the contraction timer app (I highly recommend it) and began timing my contractions.

4 minutes apart.
5 minutes apart.
2 minutes apart.
5 minutes apart.
2 minutes apart.

This definitely wasn't looking like the hours and hours of labor that I was anticipating. From everything we had heard and known, one needs to get moving with calling the midwife/heading to the hospital, when contractions get 3-5 minutes apart. I could hardly believe that my labor was progressing so quickly, but those contractions were close and just not slowing down, so it really appeared that labor was well underway.

As my labor continued throughout those wee hours of the morning, I kind of lost all sense of what was going on. John handled all the details-timing my contractions, coaching me through, and deciding when it was time to call the midwives. He called our doula in at 6am and she arrived an hour later. By 7:30am I was exhausted (I basically hadn't slept all night) and had that first tinge of "what in the wooooorld am I doing?!" (all you other  moms know what I mean---it is that moment when you realize that you think there is NO WAY you can do this and there is also the very real understanding that there is literally no turning back, and it is QUITE the helpless feeling) John told me later that I also told him that "I can't do this!!" around this time. If only we had known what all was ahead yet!

The midwives came several hours later and when they checked me I was only dilated to 3cm, in spite of, by now, 6 hours of contractions 3-5 minutes apart. I had prepared myself for not being very far dilated, so that wasn't too discouraging; my main thing I kept thinking though was "if it is going so slow and I'm not further progressed, than why in the world are my contractions so close?!"

The rest of the day was honestly a blur. Time seemed to stand still as I labored through contractions all day long. I hung on to John for dear life and I don't think there was a single contraction that I went through without him right there. It may sound odd to some but it literally felt to me like we were laboring together. I felt emotionally knit to him, throughout that day, like nothing I have ever experienced before.

 There was about an hour, over noon, when contractions slowed to every ten minutes, and we were able to get a little bit of sleep. (although I have to say that drifting asleep knowing that you will be awakened ten minutes later with excruciating pain, isn't very restful)

(this is one of my favorite photos that our doula took-a perfect depiction of the closeness and unity we felt throughout the labor. Every minute of it was together, as a team, working toward the GOAL of birthing this baby!)

To spare this story from being thousands of words long...I will tell you that I was unable to keep anything down, was in and out of the birth pool, tried every position under the sun, walked up and down our street, and did allllll the things...and little man was still just not even close to coming. John was right by my side the entire time, holding the bucket, rubbing my back, holding my hands, and coaching me through the pushing. Even though I couldn't seem to keep anything down, he knew that I had to have something to keep up my strength, and so he kept trying to get me to eat different things. In the end the only thing I could keep down was some sparkling juice, which wasn't much, but provided just a little boost to help.

John also occasionally updated our families via text with updates of continued "no progress" and it was such a gift to have such an army of our loved ones praying for me. My mom and sisters-in-love texted encouragement and scripture, which John read to me at various times as I was laboring:

"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:2

"Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him...."
Psalms37: 4-5, 7

"They that wait upon the Lord, He shall renew their strength..."
Isaiah 40:31a

"The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in Whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower."
Psalm 18:2

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee."
Isaiah 26:3

My doula had also set up twinkle lights and had the diffuser running with my favorite oils, and John had set up a playlist of worship music. It was such a sweet environment to labor in and the verses and words from the music were such beautiful promises of God's faithfulness and nearness. In a way, it was so hard to process and think through the verses and lyrics, but little bits here and there would sink in and give so much peace. It also just combined to create such a time of beauty, in spite of the pain. Words can't describe but that atmosphere really just felt holy to me. We felt the Presence of Jesus surrounding us and carrying us along throughout the entire time.

By 5pm I was almost fully dilated and pushing. I proceeded to push for three hours and still no baby.

The midwives held a consultation in the other room to discuss options. I remember being so out of it that I thought " what is there to discuss?" I couldn't even think straight to process what happens if a baby just won't come...

They came back into the room and told us: "you are going to have to transport to the hospital to have this baby delivered safely." John immediately said "yes" and began preparing for the transition. I can't explain it, but there was such peace in the decision, and I actually remember feeling relieved. It could sound very strange, considering that we had really wanted a home birth, but by this point our only concern was delivering our baby safely. We knew that if that couldn't happen at home, but could potentially happen at the hospital, we wanted that.

Pieces started to fly as I dressed and John packed in 5 minutes flat. (John said in future we will ALWAYS pack a hospital bag just in case!) 

It was dark and bitterly cold outside as John opened the door and half-carried me out. (Again, I'm just in awe of the unity we had, and the incredible experience God gave us. I'm literally getting teary-eyed just remembering as I write this!) It was such a scary moment, in some ways, as we still had so many unknowns ahead of us. It seemed as though time was standing still as John helped me into the backseat of the truck. I laid with my head on my midwife's lap and I pushed almost the whole way to the hospital, although I tried SO HARD not to. I was so afraid I was gonna deliver my baby in the backseat of the truck! I remember crying out in fear and pain, and telling John that I just couldn't keep myself from pushing, and John telling me that it was okay, and that everything was going to be alright. I have no idea how he stayed so sane and calm, but that was my lifeline, to be holding his hand, and hear his voice speaking encouragement to me. That drive was terrible and beautiful, all wrapped into one, and I think I will remember it for the rest of my life! John drove safe but FAST and we made the 45 minute drive in...significantly less.

The staff was ready and waiting when we arrived. I couldn't focus on anything, but John and my midwife were on top of all the details and I didn't have to take care of a thing. We flew up to the delivery room (me in a wheelchair) and everything was ready to go. Within a mere matter of minutes, I was changed and prepped and was pushing again. (actually, I don't think I ever really stopped pushing during all that)

The room became a beehive of activity. I didn't realize it until John told me later, but with Axton's heart rate dropping, the NICU team was lined in the room/hallway, on call for the very real possibility of extreme complications. The room was full of doctors, nurses, and NICU staff, but all I knew was that I was GOING to get this child born. Just a few pushes in, and the doctor said she needed to use vacuum suction, and asked if that was okay. Obviously it was not our preference, but I looked at John and my midwife (who knew exactly what we wanted and is very naturally minded) and when she said "yes, this has to happen", then it was a YES for us. It was quite the process and one I wouldn't wish on anybody; John said afterwards it looked like I gave birth twice, and it certainly felt that way. I was completely focused on pushing and I remember thinking (in my very foggy mind) that watching the vacuum process would most likely not benefit me anything, and that it was best for me to just look UP and push. After trying that to no avail, the doctor told us, "I never do this, but we really need to do an episiotomy." Again, I didn't care-I just looked at John and knew I was at peace with whatever he said; I didn't even have the ability to think through what I wanted other than OUR BABY.

I remember at the very end, after one of my ten-second pushes, the doctor said "and done" to encourage me for a several second break before going again, and I said "No! I'm going again!" and her and the nurses said, "OH! Okay! Well that's great, then let's go!" I have to say that those last minutes were only Jesus, because I have NO CLUE how I powered through pushing over and over again for the last batch of pushes with no break. Humanly speaking, I was way too exhausted for it, but it was like every fiber of my being came together in the most powerful surge of energy to BIRTH THIS BABY.

The moment when he finally shot out was the most incredible and beautiful thing I have ever experienced. Literally, the joining of the most painful moment of the actual delivery,  directly to the most exhilarating moment of having my son on my chest. Words simply cannot describe. I thought my heart would burst. What glory.

Our birth team was so incredible. I didn't even get to meet all of the many people (nurses etc) who assisted our little one into the world, but I am deeply grateful for each of them. We are pictured above with two of my three midwives (the third was at another birth) and my doula. They were all absolutely amazing and I cannot imagine a more perfect team. Unfortunately only one of my midwives was able to come with us into the hospital room for the birth, but all three of these women assisted us all day long during the labor, and even though the circumstances did not allow for them to do the typical delivery that they usually do, I still think of them as being the birth team for Axton's birth. We did not get pictures of the doctor and nurses who delivered Axton but they were truly amazing in every way and I am beyond grateful for the medical intervention and tools that helped our little man enter the world safely.

Our baby. The miracle of life. The perfect blending of two people into a tiny little human.
I counted his fingers and toes. I kissed his soft little checks. I cuddled his tiny little form, and then my heart burst all over again as I watched his daddy do the same. (You think you love your husband, and then you watch him with your newborn, and you fall in love alllll over again)

I've heard many women say before that "I could never have done it without my husband". And those sentiments could not be more true. John was literally the most amazing support I could have ever imagined. He was by my side throughout the entire labor and words just really cannot describe how steadfast and confidant he was. I felt like he was in labor WITH me, that is how unified we were. I am the most blessed woman in the world to have him!

So.much.joy.

Axton was wide eyed from the start-so curious about the big new world and all the adventures just waiting for him to discover.

First picture as a family of THREE!
Our baby, our Axton John Maxwell, was finally here!

And that's the story of his little grand entrance into the world! 
-Chels

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Little Axton at Three Months

How is he three months already?!

I know all of y'all have been dying for more pictures and the birth story of our little guy, and I have been so excited to share them with you! As you can see, he is growing like a weed, and one of the happiest little fellows around, not to mention the fact that he is cute as a button. Is it just me who thinks that? I know I'm his mama, but I'm not the only one who says it, so I'm inclined to think it isn't just my bias!
Want his outfit for YOUR little guy?! You can find it here. I love it---stretchy, soft, true to size, and so adorable!

Birth story up next, I promise! 

Have an awesome day! 
-Chels

Monday, January 28, 2019

Our Baby Has Arrived!

We are thrilled to announce that we have a son! Axton John Maxwell was born at 11:15pm Saturday night, January 26! He weighed in at 7lbs 5oz and was 20inch long. He is charming as can be with dimples, dark hair, deep blue eyes, and long fingers! We are so blessed and grateful! I am doing great and recovering well. Thank you for everyone who was praying for us. The Lord answered our prayers and gave us a healthy little man! His birth  was very traumatic and didn’t go as planned whatsoever! (I will share more in the coming days) But we had amazing teams helping us, both during my 24hr labor at home and then at our final unexpected hospital delivery. It was so perfect how the Lord gave me strength each moment I needed it. My husband was a ROCK and I could not have done it without him either!
Anyways! That is the short story-most of all we are just overjoyed at the arrival of our handsome little man! Thanks again for all your well-wishes and support!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

My Soft Pretzel Recipe!

Finally! My long-promised soft pretzel recipe is here today! This recipe comes straight from the church cookbook of the church that my mom grew up in, out in upstate New York. Soft pretzel making is a big thing in my moms family. Also, the owners of the franchise "Auntie Anne's Pretzels" (Jonas + Anne Beiler) are actually relatives of my moms, so soft pretzels are even in our blood I guess! =)
Soft Pretzels
*1 1/2 cups warm water
*2 tablespoons yeast
*1/4 cup brown sugar
*1/2 teaspoon salt
*4-7 (approx) cups white flour

In bread machine (I use my trusty Bosch which I LOVE and highly recommend btw!) let yeast set with water for several minutes. Add sugar, salt, and part of the flour. Continue adding flour while mixing until sides of the bowl are cleaned. (same way as if you were making bread)
Let dough rise for about 25 minutes. (either in the Bosch bowl or in a glass bowl, as pictured above)
Later added note: if you don't have a bread machine, no worries! You can easily make these by hand in a bowl! Just use the same ingredients + instructions!

Mix together 1 cup cold water and 2 tablespoons baking soda and place in large bowl and set aside.

Roll dough into ropes and form into pretzels. (below)

Dip each pretzel into water/soda mixture and then place on greased baking sheets and sprinkle with pretzel salt. (or some other course salt; I use Kosher salt)

Bake at 500 degrees for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them-they can burn quickly!

Dip in melted butter and serve hot. (for serving, I like to place several paper towels on my plate/serving tray, and then place the buttered pretzels on top of the towels)

Yield: Depends on the size you make them, but I would say this recipe will yield approx 6-8 pretzels.
(No, I didn't use all that butter you see above! =) Just one stick from the pack!)
On the pan, straight out of the oven...
Covered in melted butter and ready for consumption!
Deliciousness!!

Let me know if you try them and how they turn out for you!
 -Chels

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Winter Travels, Highlights, + Holidays

Catching up today with a last post of some highlights from our winter travels and holidays and special times in between! Here are a few favorite memories from November-January.
In early November, John and I flew to upstate NY to visit my grandparents for the weekend. It had never worked out for John to meet them while we were dating, and due to their health they were unable to attend any of the weddings in 2017, so this was John's first time to meet them. It was so special to be able to take this trip back to spend a few days with them. John combined it with a business meeting he had in the area, and it worked out perfectly. We had a lovely weekend attending church with them, playing games, visiting, and sharing family history and memories. I also got to introduce John to a number of additional relatives.

Several of my cousins and their kids came over to spend some time together one morning. So fun to get to catch up and reconnect!
My grandma with one of her thirty-four great-grandchildren!
My grandma can still cook the best meals-my mom came by her kitchen skills very naturally from Grandma!
Dinner time, with most of the food coming from the summer garden harvest.
So thankful for them!
The morning our flight left we woke up to this winter wonderland! So fun to catch the blizzard before we left! (we both LOVE snow!)
Thanksgiving week we spent with the Bontrager side in Iowa. (Thanksgiving Day gathering, above) We drove home on Wednesday to catch our scheduled photoshoot first, and then met up with my parents for a lovely double date at Longhorn. John and I had so many of our dates there at the Longhorn in Coralville, so he wanted to go on another one to that same location since it would be our first time back there since we were married. We asked my parents if they wanted to join us, and had such a grand time with them! 
We had roughly 70 of us gathered at my grandma's house Thanksgiving Day for a fun + lively day.  As usual, Grandma spoiled all of us with her numerous delectable pies. THE BEST.
Thanksgiving weekend we filled with time with friends + family. So good to see these friends again and spend some time together!
Saturday morning brunch.
Lunch out with our dear friends-my former pastor (who married us) and his wife (who was one of my bridesmaids).
Coffee with my sis at my favorite home town coffee joint
Saturday night the snow started coming down!
It was quite the weekend full of pulling vehicles out of ditches and late night escapades that involved chains, tractors, and cold temperatures! It was a Thanksgiving never to be forgotten! 
Sunday morning breakfast with Carson + Carolina at their beautiful cabin home.
Our Sunday Thanksgiving celebration.
The guys' Thanksgiving football game is a yearly tradition-snow or not!
Hanging with the little babies is ALWAYS a fav. Aren't they just the cutest?!
Back home in Leavenworth, a sweet friend from town here, along with my sis-in-law and her girls, hosted an adorable baby shower for me. I was so overwhelmed by everyone's kindness towards my little one-truly such a special time! 
What fun to be pregnant together at the same time!
With my dear grandma, mothers, sisters, and nieces who attended the shower. (minus Cassidy and Elissa, who had to leave early)
Dad + the brothers came down as well, the day of the shower, as they were all on their way to Texas for the Bible Bee. The time together was short but sweet!
Morning tea, cinnamon rolls, and chatting with my mother-in-law. I LOVE having all my inlaws living so close by and getting to spend lots of time together---it definitely helps me not to miss my Iowa family as much!
Kansas City has the best Craigs List deals...and my husband is a master at finding them! He got me this desk (free) and I love having my own permanent work space now, in his office with him. 
Christmas shopping + Starbucks with these dear sisters!
Special family nights with extended family visiting from out of town.
Christmas caroling crew!
My sweet husband totally surprised me with a super fast visit to Iowa to catch the last showing of my church's Live Animal Christmas Show. We were able to successfully shock my entire family. It was also great to see so many of my friends again.
Fun times with these little ones!
My sister hosted a single girls' retreat here in Kansas City and I cooked for them! Such fun! We had them over for dinner the first night.
Hospitality is one of our favorite things to do! In our first year of marriage, we figured out that we hosted over 250 people, from all over the USA, Canada, and overseas! Such a treat for us. 
We stayed home in Kansas for Christmas and had such a wonderful "first married Christmas" together making new memories and starting our own traditions! Christmas Eve was spent with our Maxwell side. There were lots of games, delicious food, thoughtful gifts, and quality family time.
How I love wrapping!
The guys out flying John's drone.
John and I with Lydia-I had her name in the gift exchange and sewed the dress she is wearing.
Three new Maxwells in one year!
Beginning our own Christmas Eve traditions...one of which is sleeping on the living room floor!
Husband cooking breakfast Christmas Day morning-little smokies and omelets!
Christmas Day lunch of French Dip sandwiches.
Games (Battle Line) at John's brother's house, Christmas afternoon.
Dinner out to celebrate our first anniversary!
Special candlelight dinner on December 30th.
We attended some friends' wedding in Kansas City.
Our kombucha production. We love this stuff!
We invited my family down for a two day visit over New Years!
We played lots of games and enjoyed lots of good food and conversation.
Above, Axis + Allies with the guys!
Special time with my mom.
This past fall/winter, I've enjoyed spending one afternoon a week with one of my sisters in law, helping with organizing projects or whatever needs to be done at their various homes. It has been a very fun way to get to know each of them and their families better. Here I am last week, reading stories with a group of nieces/nephews.
John's birthday dinner of hamburgers and sides!
We enjoyed having this little lady and her parents over for dinner one night.
We had part of the family over to celebrate John's 28th birthday. Soft pretzels, snacks, games, and family time made a wonderful evening!
Beautiful snow!
Another special date night!

Have a blessed weekend!
-Chels