Dueling Banjos Video

We thought you blog readers might enjoy one of the guys' latest musical arrangements. They performed it the end of last month at the Bluegate Theater in Shipshewana, Indiana and it was definitely a hit!
Enjoy this fun twist on the traditional "Dueling Banjos", 
instead featuring the dobro (Josh), banjo (Taylor), + bass (Hudson).


Meet Elizabeth!

Meet Elizabeth Caresse, the eighth-born in the Bontrager Family! Liz is Miss Personality, Miss Energy, Miss Social, and Miss Fashion. She is also thirteen, which goes along perfectly with the other labels. =) 

Elizabeth is in the eighth grade in school. She definitely takes after her older sisters in that she would be very fine with bypassing school and moving on with life, but it is a necessity so it is being done in due process. =) She loves music and plays the violin + piano. Piano is her favorite to practice, and she will sit and play/sing for hours. Chelsy has been training her in for the past year specifically to take over all of the piano playing, and Liz is now ready to transition into her newest role as lead pianist for our band. She also plays violin in our concerts, and sings lead and high harmony. Liz adores her new sisters-in-law and anytime she can see them is a favorite day in her book! She loves being outdoors, holding babies, and whipping up anything sweet in the kitchen. She often makes breakfast for our family and has quite a variety of meal she can do easily herself. She loves helping mothers with their little ones and it is a highlight for her whenever can babysit for friends' children for a day. Another transition for her this past year was stepping into the Laundry Lady role one day a week. That was a bit of an adjustment but she is learning!

She is probably the most social Bontrager and has dozens of friends all over the USA, Canada, and Mexico. There's no lack of conversation when Liz is near and she never meets a stranger. Whether she is surrounded by a group of teenagers after a concert, or asking a mom all about her babies/parenting, or practicing her sales pitch back at our product table after concerts, she loves to chat! Elizabeth is also very artistic and has multiple sketchpads in which she perfects a multitude of fonts and scripty scrolls in quotes and Bible verses. Elizabeth also competed in the summer Bible Bee, but quite frankly was a little relieved not to advance to the National Competition this year. She wants as much time as possible to be able to be involved in the wedding prep festivities for John + Chelsy. =)

Ah, how we love our sweet Liz, and are super blessed to have her in our family!


Mitchell + Bryn's Love Story

Hello friends! This is Mitchell + Bryn, guest-posting on the blog today! We are thrilled to share a bit of our love story with you readers, and a few pictures! The pictures are in random order and were all taken at some point along the way during our relationship.
Enjoy our story!
"I grew up just outside of Richland, Iowa my whole life, in a family of six - Dad, Mom, two older brothers, one younger brother, and myself. I attended (and still attend!) Marion Avenue Baptist Church, which is where I eventually met Mitchell. After graduating from Golden State Baptist College in California in May 2016 with a degree in Music Education, I returned home to jump back in and help, both at home and at church, in any way I could. Even before I came home, I heard rumors that Mitchell might be interested in me, but I ignored them and plunged into normal Iowa life."

{first date}
"I grew up near Kalona, Iowa, my whole life, in a family of twelve - Dad, Mom, five brothers, four sisters, and myself. Working on the farm, traveling the country in a 45 foot bus, singing, preaching, and playing instruments kept me busy. When my family began attending Marion Avenue in 2012, I fell in love with the church, and thoroughly enjoyed being there any time we were not on the road. Unbeknownst to me, several people began praying about Bryn + I!"
{hanging out together during the 2016 Live Animal Christmas Play}
"Over the four years from 2012-2016, Bryn and I would see each other across the auditorium at church, at church events, and at different times her family came over to our home. In February 2016, I began praying about starting a relationship with Bryn. Once Bryn returned home from college in May, she and Allison began to build a friendship. Although Allison was genuinely interested in becoming friends with Bryn, she was also my detective agent. =) She also hired Bryn to work for the DCI around that time. Allison + Bryn's friendship provided a natural chance for my family (and me!) to get to know Bryn as well!" 
{chatting after an evening music rehearsal}
"Around June 1st, Mitchell (secretly!) met with my parents to ask them for permission to pursue me. They gave him the green light- all that was left was for him to convince me! But he decided to wait to speak directly to me about it until after he and his family's summer singing tour. Mitchell and I did stay in touch, however, through a group text messaging stream with some friends + siblings from our singles class.
{Bryn's first flowers from Mitchell}
"Finally, after what seemed like a LONG summer to me, we arrived home on August 1st, 2016Five days later, I drove up to the hotel where Bryn was working, and asked for a first date. Out of curiosity, she said "yes". (not knowing then that it would be the start of a lifelong relationship)
{we loved spending time together at a family vacation in Texas!}
"The period between our first date and our engagement consisted of about 9 1/2 months of texting, FaceTime, dates, letters, sitting together in church, and lots of long chats. Like any relationship, there were high points and low points. It wasn't always blissful, but the difficulties we did have drew us closer to each other and to the Lord, and we were very blessed for everything we learned over this time!"
{one of our engagement pictures}
"Fast-forward to May 31st, 2017. It was TIME!! I asked Bryn for a picnic date, a week in advance, and she of course said yes! The day arrived - my sisters and I began to prepare the surprise proposal. Just as we were about to set everything up outside, I received a text from Bryn, saying that she was not feeling well and wouldn't be able to make it. Although disappointed (disappointed is an understatement!!!!!), I told her that it was completely fine, and maybe we could do it tomorrow instead. Little did she know that she had just cancelled her own engagement!"
{another shot from our engagement shoot}
"The next day, Bryn and I had rescheduled our date, and planned a "simple" picnic for that evening. Because of the location I had chosen for the picnic, I told one of my sisters to text and ask Bryn to stop and pick up something for her, which would cause her to arrive from a different direction, to ensure that she didn't see the romantic picnic table I had set. She was clueless - she blithely said "sure!", picked up the completely unnecessary item, and arrived at the farm. After spending a few minutes with my family inside, Bryn and I headed out to the field to "eat". At this point, there had been a few little things that made her wonder if maybe this was "the night", but nothing too significant. As we walked out to the picnic location, I attempted conversation, but finally gave it up, thinking that nothing I said was making sense anyways! Bryn didn't seem to notice, and continued walking."
{Mitchell-proposing || Bryn-accepting!}
"As we rounded the corner of the barn, I was surprised to see a table set in the midst of a section mowed in the shape of a heart, complete with roses, hand lettered signs, and fancy table settings. Mitchell stopped on the red blanket, surrounded by rose petals, that had been set to mark the perfect picture setting, and asked me to stand in a certain spot. (All for the pictures + video, taken by two very capable and well hidden sisters!) By this time, it was setting in for me - "He's going to propose!" After a sweet first declaration of love, Mitchell said the magic words, "Will you marry me?" My reply was simple: "Absolutely!!" 
Mitchell + Bryn-
"Ninety-three long days later, we were married at the Marion Avenue Baptist Church. We are now thoroughly enjoying married life, and planning to live a long happily ever after serving Jesus together."
       "He hath made everything beautiful in His time..."
 -Ecclesiastes 3:11


Meet Taylor!

Meet Lincoln Taylor, the seventh-born in the Bontrager Family! Taylor is fifteen years old and is the thoughtful, serious, quiet young man of the family. People often ask why he is called by his middle name instead of his first? Answer: mom liked the flow of "Lincoln Taylor" but wanted to call him "Taylor" most. Hence: his middle name is what he goes by.

One of Taylor's most obvious accomplishments from the past year has been his increasing height. He has almost set the record for the Bontrager that has grown the most in 2017, and he's not done yet! He might end up as the tallest of the boys! Of all the sons in the family, Taylor probably has the most farming in his blood, and he LOVES our dairy! With the recent marriage of his three eldest brothers and the shifting of some of the responsibilities, Taylor got the label "herd/dairy manager" and he was beyond excited about that. He loves making decisions and planning/organizing different things on the farm, and he is becoming very knowledgable in these areas as well. He knows all of our cows by number and scores. Taylor also took over calf registration when Mitchell moved out. 

Taylor's passion for the past six years has been the National Bible Bee. However, after his win last year of the senior division, he was ineligible to compete again, so this year he has taken a much slower paced involvement. He is coaching Hudson + Rebecca and also plans to volunteer at the National Competition in November. Taylor loves time in the outdoors, and sports, hunting, and camping are a few of his favorites! He has gotten two deer in previous years and is hoping for another one during shotgun season! Most of Taylor's spare time these days can be found practicing new licks and runs on the banjo. (He LOVES music!) The banjo player shoes were big ones to fill when Mitchell quit the band this spring, but Taylor has practiced incessantly and all that hard work from the past few years of faithful practice has paid off! He still plays bass on about half of our songs, and has added banjo on the other half. He is also the only Bontrager currently in high school. He stays pretty busy with all that!

Most of all, Taylor is a dedicated soul-winner and tells people about Jesus everywhere He goes. He is a great inspiration to the rest of us to share the JOY of Christ with a lost and dying world! His big heart and faithfulness in the small things add so much to our home, and we are sure thankful that God gave us a Taylor!


Fall Tour Recap

This past Sunday night, we wrapped up our ten-day tour through Indiana/Michigan/Ohio. This tour marked the completion of five and half months of touring in 2017 for our family band. We are definitely excited about spending the rest of the year off the road and close to home!

It was quite the trip, with a number of firsts and lasts.
We got to sing at a few of our favorite venues, that are yearly traditions...
And we sang at about half a dozen new venues that we had never been at before!
It was Cassidy's first tour on board as a Bontrager, and it was Chelsy's last tour with us.
The weather ranged from COLD to HOT. And a little of everything in between!
We met some dear new souls, and saw many old friends as well.
Such a treat for Allison to get to play with her fellow fiddler + hero! This guy was her inspiration to play violin, all the way back when she was three, and it is pretty cool to hear them play together now, twenty years later!
Supper in the parking lot with Shipshe friends. We sat on chairs and the backs of vehicles and whatever worked! Love these impromptu meetings we get to have across the miles.
With these four at the helm, it is pretty much a sure thing that the comedy aspect will only be increasing. =) They had the crowd in stitches!

We were blessed with a quick stop at the Ark Encounter! What an AMAZING place!

Inside the Ark.
Making music together...doing what we love.
Time with the cousins, uncles, and aunts is always the biggest treat! We loved spending a little time one afternoon with moms nephew and his wife and son. Can't wait to meet their baby twin girls next time, Lord willing! =)
Rebecca reading stories to little cousin Jackson.
Morning devotions during a quick visit with some dear friends.
Loved the opportunity to do dinner together with these friends! The guy running the salad bar told me, "You all must never have a quiet moment with this family!" I didn't know which one of our three families he was referring to but I figured I was quite justified in saying "you're right!!" for all of us. =) We had one loud and lovely table! Such good memories!


Meet Chelsy!

Meet Chelsy Renee, the firstborn in our family. Chelsy is twenty-six years old and the "leader of the pack". She loves being the oldest (even if it has been the guinea pig position!) and takes her role as eldest sister very seriously.

Chelsy thrives on organization, writing lists, and getting things done! She loves the many opportunities that come her way for helping with planning friends/siblings weddings, cooking for events/conferences/parties, and working in leadership or behind the scenes for various projects. Up until just this month, she was employed with the family band as secretary/musician/instructor and worked in many different capacities with that. Her job included coordinating with our graphic designer/webmaster for new designs, advertising, + albums, answering all of the emails, running the blog, and working with our different tour venues in concert promotion. She also took the majority of our candid pictures, shipped all music orders, and responded to emails. Some of her favorite things that she got to do as part of her work were arranging music, teaching everyone their harmony parts, and putting together the wardrobes for our concert outfits. Occasional opportunities to help out with special projects on the farm and at the hotel, added some fun diversity! This fall she was in charge of the canning and as a result we now have many quarts of everything from pickles to salsa to pasta sauce, lining our can room shelves.

As you may have gathered from her recent engagement post, her life has been changing quite a bit this past year! She actually just quit her job in order to have time to plan her wedding and get ready for a new home. (a few of her newly discovered interests are carpentry + interior design! =)) Her personal blog has taken a bit of a backseat at different seasons of her life over the past few years, but she still loves to write there and get up on that soap box from time to time, and she plans to continue that in the future! A few of her main loves are theater (acting + costume design), fashion, music, coffee, journaling, and reading.

Chelsy adds lots of energy to our family and she is always up for adventure. We will miss her so much when she moves to Kansas, but are so excited for her upcoming wedding + marriage!


God Is Blessing Our Family With Another Son!

We know just what you all are thinking- "this can't be possible to have another wedding announcement already, after three weddings last month?!?!" But it is very true! Our eldest daughter is engaged! 

Her boyfriend, John Maxwell, proposed to her at a gorgeous setting, out on the edge of one of our hay fields, beside the woods, and she said "YES"!!
Her ring is absolutely stunning! John designed it himself and it is one incredible ring.
Our entire family loves John and he fits in so well with us. We are THRILLED to be gaining another brother, and so excited to have our very own Chels marrying such a good man! They are having so much fun together planning their December 30th wedding, and we can't wait for another celebration! 

"For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside Thee, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him."
-Isaiah 64:4


September Snapshots from Home

September felt like a very short month to most of us! People have been asking us how the "new normal" feels and we respond that we don't know yet because we haven't been home enough to find out! =) 

The boys + their wives all returned home from their respective honeymoons, and enjoyed settling into their "new normal" of running their own households + each couple's individual work schedules. We enjoyed the opportunity to all get together one night for a cookout back at the campsite, (above) 
and sure do love our growing family! 
Backtracking a bit back to the very beginning of the month now with this picture...having so many of mom's family visit for the weddings was SO FUN! We got to host a houseful of them for Sunday lunch, after the weddings.
September means fall chopping time! The guys worked diligently in spite of breakdowns and technical difficulties. Getting that silo filled with chopped corn for the winter is no small feat, but sure a good feeling to have finished!
These two decided they wanted to make us all pancakes one morning. Bless their hearts!
Our tomatoes continued producing, so mom invited the new daughters over to learn how to can salsa and take it home to their men! So so fun to work together on projects like these!
Taking three people out of the equation at one time really changes things. Also having a mostly adult household really changes things! On this particular Saturday, it came super time and the above three were the only people home. This has been happening more and more and while it feels very strange at first, we just roll with it and of course have a great time, no matter how many or few people are there! We whipped up a homemade pizza and ONLY NEEDED ONE. That felt odd-I can't ever remember having just made one pizza before! =) 
I went out hunting with Hudson for an afternoon. 
It was great quality sibling time and Hudson got his first deer of the season! 
Rebecca turned ten and we celebrated with typical Bontrager birthday bash, of course!

Iowa sunsets are SO breathtakingly beautiful! Allison got to enjoy this one at work one evening.
A wonderful reminder that we need so often!


Meet Hudson!

Meet Hudson Reed, the ninth born in the Bontrager Family! At eleven-almost twelve-years of age, Hudson is the "teddy bear" of the family and is always full of hugs and smiles for anyone in need of them. 

Hudson is at that stage where he is growing out of a little boy into a little man. He loves doing all in his power to keep up with his older brothers and being right there with them, chipping right in with whatever they are doing. He might still be the smallest of all the guys but he still gives it 100% in work and sports to make up for the size difference with extra determination and grit. =) He is all boy and loves guns, knives, wrestling, and sports, to name a few. The biggest highlight of his fall thus far has been the doe that he shot all by himself last week! After quite a number of disappointing hunts, his excitement over his first deer of the season was pretty great to watch! We all rejoiced with him. The hunting thing seems to be in his blood.:)

Hudson's main jurisdiction on the farm is feeding the calves and he does an excellent job with that. Nearly every afternoon that we are home finds him out on the farm for around an hour, mixing bottles, scooping grain, and bedding down the calves. He is in 6th grade in school and told me that if math was the only subject he had to do, then he would really like school. =) He definitely is motivated to get studies finished quickly and move on with his day! Quality time is his thing and he lights up when he hears about an opportunity to spend one-on-one time with a family member. This is his fifth year to do The Bible Bee, and he has made it to the national competition every year. Hudson absolutely loves everything about nationals and he thrives on the diligence, dedication, and competitiveness required to compete well! He has taken violin + piano lessons faithfully for the past four years, but quit piano the beginning of this year to pursue a new instrument-the bass guitar! With some shifting in the family band, the position for "second bass" became available, and Hudson jumped on it. Hours and hours and HOURS of practice later...he now plays bass on about eight of our songs and does a great job of it. Hudson is also known as our most energetic band member on stage-he likes to keep things peppy!

Hudson's cheerful personality and tender heart are a big blessing to our family, and we couldn't do without him!