Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Tribute to My Grandma Bontrager

(one of my favorite pictures of Grandma-her and Madeline, March 2022)

This post is probably the hardest one I've ever written. I still can't believe my grandma is gone. It all happened so fast and it was so unexpected and such a shock to lose her. 

And yet, it is such a privilege to be able to write these words about my incredible Grandma. The fact that I have a lifetime of sweet memories with her is a tribute in itself to the kind of person that she was. For that I will always be grateful. Still, I can't believe she is gone, and I miss her more than words can say.         (the last visit I had with Grandma, February 2nd, just over a month ago)

I saw her well and healthy for the last time, just the beginning of February. I had been back in Iowa to be a bridesmaid in a friends' wedding, and last minute I ended up being able to spend a few hours with Grandma and my brother and his wife. We had a lovely dinner and just a wonderful evening together. Grandma, as always, was asking about my kids and my health and our life, and getting me up to date on all the local and family happenings. Specifically I remembered her being so excited for the upcoming Bontrager family reunion that was being planned for June 2023. She loved family get-togethers and spending time with friends and family. 

Just two weeks later on a Sunday morning I got a phone call that rocked my world. Grandma had a blockage in her colon that had gone undetected (in spite of recent ER visits and multiple tests) and by the time it was finally discovered late that Saturday night, it had ruptured and infection was spreading. In the early morning hours of Sunday, February 19th, the doctors said she likely only had 7-10 days to live, and she passed away on Tuesday evening the 21st, just three days later. 

I left for Iowa on Monday morning the 20th and was able to spend time with Grandma in the hospital on Monday and Tuesday. Those last moments with her I will treasure always.

As I did when my grandpa Stoltzfus passed away, I wanted to write a post about Grandma Bontrager and share about the special woman she was to me. Here are a few of my memories of my grandma Bontrager....

(Grandma and Madeline, winter 2021)

Grandma was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever known. She loved meeting people and spending time with people. I think quality time was her love language, although words of affirmation were probably a close second. She had an extremely difficult childhood and life, one that was one of the hardest I've heard of, and yet I really saw her life as being one that had become "better, not bitter". 

(summer 2019. my family was on tour but we had come to Iowa for another event so we stayed with Grandma and then went to church with her on Sunday. This visit is a very special memory for me!)

Grandma was a prayer warrior. If you've ever been to one of my family's concerts, then you've probably heard my dad share about his praying mother. She spent so much time in prayer. Not only did she pray her children through some very very rough years (not to mention basically raising them on her own after losing her own husband at a young age) but she prayed for all of her 42 grandchildren, by name, every single day. Yes, I know--we were so blessed!! 

(visit from Grandma and my cousins, spring 2019)

A phone call with grandma helped me catch up on all the Iowa happenings, especially after I got married and moved away. She could tell me all the news, because she loved to find out about things and be in the know. I remember thinking she always knew about everything. She got the local paper and the Budget and in the last ten years she had her home phone and a cell phone. It wasn't unusual for her to answer one of those phones and ask you to hold a minute because she was wrapping up a call on the other line. =) Like I said, she was always in the know on things!

(grandma and Axton, 2019)

My kids adored great grandma. We would make a point of stopping in to visit her every time we named back to Iowa (and she would usually come down to the farm for a meal or two as well while we were there) Elliot called her GREAT grandma, with emphasis on GREAT. It was super adorable and Grandma always got the biggest kick out of it. She loved how he said her name and she also thought it was pretty cute that he remembered her every time even though he was only one when he started saying her name!
(grandma and me cooking in my kitchen)

I love this picture so much, because it captures a memory that is reminiscent of many more that were not photographed. It was taken Thanksgiving of 2019 when my parents and single siblings and grandma came for the holiday. I asked Grandma to make the gravy and so here we were around my stove, working and talking. We had had countless such moments around her stove, in her kitchen, but this was the first time that it was around my stove, in my kitchen. 

(grandma meeting Elliot, August 2020)

I’ll never forget that familiar habit of walking in to my grandmas house. She was nearly always either standing at the stove cooking, sitting at her peninsula looking at the mail, bending over her quilt frame quilting, or rocking and reading in the living room. It wasn't uncommon for her to also be on the phone in any of those given situations! =) I always remember her being thrilled to see me. She loved people stopping by. 

(Grandma and Axton, Thanksgiving 2019)

(spring 2022)

A few years before I got married grandma finally told me, “I just wonder, Chelsy, do you think you might be too picky?” I'll never forget that conversation and it still makes me laugh because I could tell she had been wanting to ask me for a while and finally just couldn't resist. I assured her I wasn't too picky and that I just hadn't found anyone I really liked yet. =) I think my exact words were something like, "All the guys I know are great but there are none that really stand out to me, and you don't think I should marry one just for the sake of getting married, do you?" Grandma: "well noooo....but just make sure you aren't too picky!" =)  I knew she always was hopeful for a good guy for me. When John visited the first time, I asked her if I could bring him up to meet her. She was VERY excited: "Of course, you bring him right up! I'm home!!" =)  We sat at her kitchen table and ate pie and he told her her pumpkin pie was the best he’d ever had. As we left I remember thinking, “well if this doesn’t work out I think the person with the main broken heart is going to be grandma.” She was a big fan of him from day one. :) 

(Grandma reading to the boys at our house, spring 2022)

Grandma visited us twice here in Kansas, after I was married. Those visits were huge honors to me, as I knew she specifically wanted to come to my house. I felt so special to be included in her travels! I remember her making a comment about me keeping a nice house, and that was one of the highest compliments I could've gotten from her, as housekeeping is a BIG DEAL to Amish/Mennonites, and I knew she did not give out that compliment to just anyone. I may not be Mennonite anymore but I sure do love those homemaking traits I've learned from my heritage! 

During her last visit, we had talked a lot about the hospital where Grandma worked the year after her and grandpa were married. That same hospital happened to be the same one where Axton and Madeline were born, and where we lived the summer that Madeline was in the NICU. We were all curious as to how much had changed since Grandma's days of working there. Grandma didn't have time to go during that visit, but John and I told her that next time she came, we wanted to take her down there to drive around and see what all was the same or different from almost 70 years ago. We didn't know then that there wouldn't be a next time.

(This picture was taken the year Axton was born. 

I don't remember the exact occasion but a number of us gals were having a meal at Grandmas)

I ate more food in Grandma's house than I could ever recount, and every single bite was ALWAYS delicious. When I was single, there were many times that I would swing by Grandmas house to pick something up, or drop something off, or do a project for her. I would often ask for a piece of bread. There literally was never a time I ever went to Grandmas that she did not have bread available! She was the QUEEN of homemade bread. It was a bit of a staple in her house! I remember standing by the counter slathering my bread with either butter or amish peanut butter while we chatted about anything and everything.

I got my love of cooking and food from my grandma. Up until last summer, when she decided to stop, she worked as a cook/host for the Kalona Historical Society making and serving "Amish dinners" to the tour groups that came through my family's home town. She served over 75,000 people in the years that she was a cook for the society. From the time I was an early teenager, until I got married, I worked for her serving and helping with many of those dinners. And for several years before that, I would babysit my aunt's kids while they helped serve. So I literally grew up around those tour groups and all that delicious food. I LOVED working for grandma. Being in her kitchen, involved in the hustle and bustle of big roasters and pots and pans full of steaming delicious food, is one of my fondest memories. And even though I'm actually an introvert, still, I'm a Bontrager, which means I do love people in a big way! I loved meeting thousands of people from all over the country (and the world!) and being a tiny part in their experience of a good home cooked meal. It was also a great opportunity to spend lots of time with grandma, and my aunts and cousins who worked for her as well.

(we had pie buffets like this at every big family holiday dinner) 

I'll never forget the first time I cut the bread for a tour group dinner. Slicing the bread was a bit of a rite of passage and one that Grandma never handed off to someone too young. But my aunts said I was old enough so slice the bread and Grandma was busy with something else so I got the green light to try my hand at it. I remember Grandma inspecting it after I was done: "Pretty good. Maybe a bit on the thin side, but pretty good." =) There was a PERFECT size for bread slicing. =) I felt proud that I got "close" on my first try!!

I am not half the cook that grandma was and my pie still leaves MUCH to be desired, but if anything I cook is good, than I guess I can say I came by the skill honestly and that I had a very good teacher!

(July 2022)

This is the last picture I have with my kids and Grandma. (we saw her multiple times last fall but for some reason I didn't get any pictures with her those times) I had taken the kids back to Iowa for a fast visit to surprise my brother for his 30th birthday, last summer, and we stopped in to spend a little time with Grandma while we were there. I wasn't the best at getting pictures with her but I will always cherish the ones I have! You can see by the boys grins just how much they loved her!

(grandma and Axton, summer 2019)

I'll end this post with a few of my favorite things that Grandma told me at different times, over the years:

The first was that she told me often how much she appreciated that I took time to spend with her. I learned a lot from grandma about the value of building relationships through quality time. She told me over and over again how much she loved that I spent time with her. I always told her, "Grandma, of course I want to spend time with you!!" It really meant the world to her when her children and grandchildren included her in things. My parents did an excellent job of involving her in so much of our family's lives, that it felt second nature to me to do the same thing even after I was married and had moved away. I loved being with her! 

The second thing she told me more than once was, “Chelsy, you really got blessed with a very nice husband." =)  (I agreed!) John loved her too and always made sure we had time in our Iowa visits to be with grandma. I know part of the reason my kids loved her so much was because they got to know her through visits and had relationships with her as well! 

Third, and most importantly, Grandmas parting words to me on the phone, that last Sunday morning, were these: “Living for Jesus is the only thing that matters in this life. I love you." I'll never forget sitting on the floor around grandma at her 80th birthday and hearing her share her personal salvation testimony with all her grandchildren. Jesus was the most important thing to her. Witnessing her love and commitment to Him during her life, and her joy and peace on her deathbed, was truly incredible. 

Grandma's obituary

(summer 2018)

What a legacy. What a testimony. Her influence on my life is so great and manifests itself in so many ways. Hardly a day goes by that I do not think of her or see something that reminds me of the hole she leaves. She was such a godly lady. Such a strong woman of faith in Jesus. Such a prayer warrior. Yes, she was human and flawed, like all of us. But she loved us and we loved her. 
And there will never be another person quite like her, to me. 

I have a lifetime of memories made with Grandma. Holidays, reunions, road trips, meals, events, work, games, talk, and more food....this post doesn't even scratch the surface of all the sweet stories I could tell and the memories I could recount. The longer I write, the more I think of to tell, and the more I am grateful to have such a treasure trove of memories! They are truly the greatest gift she could've had given me, and she did!
"What will it be like when my pain is gone
And all the worries of this world just fade away?
What will it be like when You call my name
And that moment when I see You face to face?

I'm waiting my whole life to hear You say

Well done, well done My good and faithful one
Welcome to the place where you belong
Well done, well done My beloved child
You have run the race and now you're home
Welcome to the place where you belong
 What will it be like when tears are washed away
And every broken thing will finally be made whole?
What will it be like when I come into Your glory
Standing in the presence of a love so beautiful?"

-the Afters

*This song was sung by an accapella group at my grandmas funeral. It was so beautiful.

I love you, Grandma. So so much. I'll see you again!


Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sarah & Kory's Wedding & Weekend Celebrations Recap

I've said it before, I'll say it weddings are just so fun and sweet, and my sis in law Sarah's was no exception! It was the perfect weather for Kansas for August-literally a dream day of not too hot, not too cold. All of our extended family (Maxwells) were there along with a lovely crowd of family and friends. 

Sarah and Kory met online earlier in the year and they are perfect for each other. We were all so happy for them both!

Speaking of meeting online, and since I'm writing this post anyways, let me give my single readers my unsolicited opinion here on online dating. =) That is this: God uses MANY different avenues to bring people together! The "husband delivered to your doorstep all wrapped up in a silver bow" concept that many people adhere to is neither biblical nor is it real life. =) It is so important to follow what God has for you individually and be willing to be brave in that no matter what the avenue may be! I'm super proud of Sarah for stepping out of her comfort zone and be open to meeting someone online! 
Things kicked off with the bachelorette party on Thursday night. The bride & bridesmaids all went and got our nails done and then stayed at the cutest little vrbo that I had found! We consumed large amounts of pizza and snacks and coffee and had the best time. 
Believe it or not it was my first time getting my nails done at a salon. (remember, my roots are farmer girl. Nails are just not my top priority typically!) It was a fun experience though and I enjoyed it!
Getting ready, wedding morning!
The bridal party

*The wedding photographer was Brittany Tarchala of Silverdoves Photography, and she did an incredible job! She kept everything moving right along on schedule and did fabulous working with the bridal party and the huge families on both sides! The pictures she got are beautiful! (all of the professional wedding pictures in this post are courtesy of her.) 
Sarah picked this beautiful Azazie Hadley dress in Amethyst for the bridesmaids, and we all got to pick our own shoes. (I ended up getting these sandals which were comfy, cheap, a little sparkly, but also practical for wearing again)
Got a quick shot of our little family!
The boys shirts were their Carters brand Easter shirts from earlier this year, that I bought last year on Kohls clearance for them. I got their matching shorts from Children's Place at the beginning of the summer. (they are on major clearance now!) Elliot is wearing thrifted Sperry's that Axton used to wear, and Axton is wearing thrifted Converse. Madeline's dress is Old Navy brand, thrifted, and her hair bow is from this set that she wears all the time! It was really fun to put their outfits together with stuff that I already had on hand. It doesn't always work that way but it is fun when it does. =)
When I see this picture I think "wow we have a lot of babies." =) 
This part of the ceremony was pretty cute. =)

Also cute was Axton's reaction when I walked in. He reached out into the aisle and said "mama!!" 
Melted my heart!
All the Maxwell grandkids with Sarah and Kory!
I love this sibling shot!
My mini me!! We keep hearing more and more that she looks like me. I was so sure she was going to be John's little look alike and I still think she looks more like his and Axton's baby pictures, but maybe she will be the kid that looks like the perfect mix, haha! (Axton looks so much like John and Elliot so much like me)
The dessert reception was lovely! The ladies from Sarah's church went all out with the details and poured a ton of time, effort, and love into making everything so beautiful AND delicious!
Elliot and Axton were all into this wedding. Axton kept saying, ahead of time, "after they get married, then we will call him UNCLE Kory!" =) 
Some of you might remember me talking about my friend Laura who photographed John's and my wedding! Her and Sarah met at our wedding and have stayed in touch since. She gave Sarah lots of advice on navigating online dating, since Laura and her husband met online as well! It was so neat to see both couples together at the wedding!
Our nieces were such a huge help with Madeline (and the boys) on wedding day!
Everyone let off the reception balloons for the sendoff!
That Saturday evening after the wedding, we invited out of town wedding family and friends to come over to our home to hang out. We ordered in pizza and had a very laid back, chill party unwinding and relaxing. It was a perfect time to connect with people over food and games! 
We also enjoyed a "wedding food leftovers" party at my in laws a few days after the wedding. 
Here, Maddy loved hanging out with great aunt Tami!
She also just loved the party time in general. =)
It was super special getting to host out of town friends who came for the wedding. Here we are (some of us!) headed to church Sunday morning!
So thankful for such a sweet sis in law and friend. It was an honor to stand with her in her wedding! 
The whole day was truly a celebration and answer to prayers. 
 I'll end with a picture of our whole Maxwell tribe! It was so lovely to have a family wedding again and all join together in celebrating Sarah and Kory.

And that's my little recap on their wedding. Hope y'all enjoyed this post! Have a wonderful week!

Note: All of the items linked in this post, unless otherwise noted, are items that I own and love. Amazon links are affiliate links. Please read my affiliate disclosure here

Friday, October 14, 2022

FisherPrice Toddler Seats & My Meal Time Favorites for Littles

This picture is my favorite part about this post because GOODNESS they are cute and I love them more than life itself!! I'm sure every parent says this about their kids but I am convinced mine are genuinely the sweetest and dearest little souls I have ever met and I cannot believe I get to be their mama. So blessed.

On that note of being a mama! I have these three babies ages 3, 2, and 1, and I have never owned a highchair! Guess what, you don't have to either! =) These simple little FisherPrice Toddler seats are incredible! They come with straps so they are safe even for your "just learned to sit" babies. (I usually start using them soon after the babies start to eat solids and are sitting well by themselves) These little seats not only strap to your baby but also to the chair, very securely. We take ours with us when we travel also, and have been known to use them at weddings, in restaurants, and when we are invited to friends' for dinner. 

This is what we have used from the beginning of our parenthood journey just a few years ago and I cannot recommend them enough. In my opinion, regular high chairs are overrated and unnecessary and just a completely bonus space hog and expense. =) I'm all about minimalism in most areas, and I still can't get over the simplicity and versatility of these little things!

We got two of ours on Amazon and one off Facebook marketplace. (I feel like garage sales would be a great place to find them too but I haven't had that luck yet) We even had an extra for a while when Axton was a baby. We would keep the spare in the trunk of the car for when we were out and about, and then bring it in to our house if we had guests who had a toddler. Having it always in the car meant that we were prepared anytime we needed it!

Here are a few other things that are my mealtime favorites for littles:

Silicone baby bibs. Literally the best invention ever. These save spills and so much more! 

NUK Sippies. This is all we use for sippy cups for all the ages and they are perfect! Highly recommend! 

NUK toddler silverware. I love these because they have a plastic handle which is great but the actual spoon/fork part is stainless steel. 

NUK infant spoons. This is what I use for Madeline and the boys before her, for those first few months of learning to eat solids. I love them! 

Toddler plates/bowls. Ours were gifted to us years ago and were from Ikea, but these look identical. I really really love how simple they are-they fit perfectly on the trays of the toddler seats, and there is a plate and a bowl option depending on what we are having. 

If you are reading this and are a mama, how many kids do you have, and what are your favorite tips for mealtimes?

Happy Weekend! 


Note: All of the items linked in this post, unless otherwise noted, are items that I own and love. Amazon links are affiliate links. Please read my affiliate disclosure here

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Madeline in a Year

August 2022, 13 months!
Headband: gifted 
Polka Dot Bodysuit: thrifted
Navy Bloomer Shorts: Carters clearance 

I've been waiting to share these "Madeline in a year" pictures, until I took the last one of her at one year! I took these with the boys as well, almost every month, from newborn until one year. It has been a fun little tradition. I did miss several months with Madeline but got in a few extras too! 

We were given these Cuddle and Kind dolls as baby gifts from some sweet friends, and we used them for the monthly pictures with each of them. They are super high quality dolls and so soft and cuddly. I highly recommend them for special baby gifts or just for fun for your own kiddos. They are one of our little ones' favorite toys! 

The one Madeline has in all these pictures is the Charlotte doll. SO CUTE!

Also for fun, I'm sharing her little outfit details since I love to hear where other people find their children's clothes, and some of you might be like me. =)

First off, because I missed taking these pictures the first few months, here are a few without her doll. 
September 2021. 2 months old, the day we brought her home
Headband: gifted
Sleeper: gifted
October 2021, 3 months old
Headband: from this set
Outfit: gifted
November 2021, 4 months old
Headband: gifted from a friend 
Auntie Onesie-gifted from Auntie Anna M (all three kiddos have worn it!)
Leggings: thrifted
December 2021, 5 months old
Headband: from this set
Long sleeve bodysuit: Carters clearance 
Pink leggings: thrifted
December 2021, 5 1/2 months old.
Headband: from this set
Long Sleeve Bodysuit: thrifted
Leggings: thrifted
Boots: thrifted
January 2022, 6 months old
Headband: Gracious May
Shirt: gifted 
Jeggings: thrifted
Booties: from Ross, worn by her brothers also! 
(one of the only clothing items I've used for both genders)
March 2022, 8 months old
Headband: from this set
Hooded Bodysuit: OshKosh sale
Leggings: thrifted
April 2022, 9 months old.
Headband: from this set
Floral Bodysuit: thrifted
Leggings: thrifted
April 2022, 9 months old
Headwrap: gifted, similar here
 Floral Bodysuit: Carters clearance
Leggings: thrifted (also worn by her brothers!)
May 2022, 10 months old
Headband: gifted
Outfit: gifted
June 2022, 11 months old
Headband: gifted
Shirt: thrifted
Pink Bloomer Shorts: Carters clearance
Current: Almost 14 months and "GROW AS FAST AS I CAN AND NEVER HOLD STILL". =)

This weekend, it will be exactly a year since we brought her home from the NICU. What a gift and joy her little life is to our family!! I will never take for granted her healthy and happy little self!

Note: all of the items linked in this post are items that I own and love. Amazon links are affiliate links. Please read my affiliate disclosure here.