Winter blahs? Take the gratitude visit challenge

If you are like us, this time of year brings the winter blahs. I am a fan of a UV light and physical exercise to combat seasonal depression, but this exercise packs a mood-boost wallop. As a bonus, it also doubles as a story prompt. The gratitude visit idea comes from New York Times Bestseller, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have an Extraordinary Impact, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

My Life Story is a book of questions to ask your parents, or to prompt your own story. Cover shown here.Who has influenced you?

As background, one of our all-time favorite personal story prompts is: “Who has been the most influential person in your life?”

Related: Questions to ask your parent or grandparents

Today, however, we encourage you to express gratitude not only to the person who made the biggest impact on shaping you, but maybe someone who blessed your life but you have not thanked before. It might be a teacher, coach, mentor, or friend. Our challenge today is not only to think of this person but to do an exercise called a gratitude visit.

The gratitude visit challenge: 1. Think of who has influenced you. 2. Write a letter of thanks. 3. Deliver it in person. 4. Include as part of your story. 5. Notice how gratitude boosts your mood. The gratitude visit exercise:

Think of someone who had a profound impact on your life, someone who you never reached out and told how they influenced you. Then, sit down and write that person a letter telling them specifically what they did to make a difference in your life. It doesn’t have to be super long, but long enough to make the point. Include how that impact still carries through in your life today and be sure to say how you still think of him or her. Ideally deliver the letter in person.

Related: LeVar Burton shared a powerful gratitude exercise in his RootsTech keynote

And may we add our own tip? Make a copy of the letter and include the experience in your personal story or journal. Also, consider bringing a digital recorder or recording app to your gratitude visit so you can capture the moment as oral history. It might just be magic. Afterward, you might reflect about the experience through journaling, or writing a more formal story vignette. Trust us, this is the stuff your family will want to read.

The gratitude visit, from the Power of Moments:

Expressing gratitude pleases the recipient of the praise, of course, but it can also have a boomerang effect, elevating the spirits of the grateful person. Positive psychologists, who search for scientific ways to make people happier, have discovered the potency of what’s called a “gratitude visit.”

 “Researchers have found that if you conduct a gratitude visit, you feel a rush of happiness afterward—in fact, it’s one of the most pronounced spikes that have been found in any positive psychology intervention.”

“Better yet, researchers say, this feeling lasts. Even a month later, people who conducted a gratitude visit were still happier than their peers in a control group.” (The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have an Extraordinary Impact, Chip Heath and Dan Heathp. 153-157)

In a month after the gratitude visit, why not reflect back on the experience? Be mindful of what you are experiencing in your body. Do you feel warm and happy? Does the positive feeling of gratitude return?

Act now:

Who is your person? Write a letter today! Even if you don’t write a full letter or make a visit, why not take a minute to comment on this article below? We would love to hear about who has influenced you. Also, the very act of expressing gratitude, even in a comment online, is powerful.

If you are up for the gratitude visit challenge, let us know how it goes. Would you be willing to share your experience with us? We would love to publish a reader story about this.

Reference: From New York Times Bestseller: The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have an Extraordinary Impact, Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Simon and Schuster, October 3, 2017

Rhonda LauritzenRhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an old Victorian in Ogden and work together in Evalogue.Life, weaving family and business together.

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links which means if you purchase some of the products we mention by using our links, we make a commission. Be assured that I’m only sharing the methods I actually use, but I do appreciate when you buy with my links because it helps fund articles like this one.

Your Story is Enough

When someone asks you to write about yourself, a bit of panic can set in. I saw this firsthand at a recent class I was teaching on telling your own story. “What if my life isn’t very interesting?” a woman asked me quietly and timidly after the class had ended. Interestingly enough,  I had been thinking the same question a whole bunch lately – is my story enough?  Her question prompted the answer I had been seeking for my own life. Yes, yes, it is enough and your story is enough too – and it’s okay to write about yourself.

Just how do you write about yourself?

When you want to write about yourself, talking about the everyday things that bring you joy is a good place to start.

My colleague and I are in the business of telling people’s stories. This work is rich and  wonderful, but after hearing other’s people’s fabulous life stories and adventures I can’t help but ask myself if my life is full enough? Am I doing enough to make an interesting life for my descendants to read? Am I too caught up in mundane activities?

The answer came to me all at once when prompted by this woman. I was presenting for the first time at a conference for the South Davis Genealogy Conference with my colleague, Rhonda Lauritzen, and she was speaking on the Art of Family Storytelling. One of the women had loved what she heard but was a little troubled at how to start her own life narrative. “I hear these stories of the struggles and hardships others have had and I just have not had that. I don’t know what I can write about.” As I went to speak to her I got the kind of goosebumps when you have a thought that is a real answer to your prayers. “Your story is enough,” I told her with complete clarity. “No matter what you write, your family is going to love you and love it. They want to know you. They want to know what is in your heart and in your thoughts,” I told her. Odd how in that moment, I was answering my own questions.

Everyone has a story.

Sometimes the best days are the ordinary days. I cherish this spontaneous photo caught of my children one Sunday.
Sometimes the best days are the ordinary days. I cherish this spontaneous photo caught of my children one Sunday.

As I’ve told people’s stories over the past 20 years I have discovered is that everyone has a story. Your own story isn’t boring, I promise. I wrote a blog about finding great angles in stories. Click here to read more about it. Besides, there is something to be said for the everyday moments of life. They have meaning. They have substance.  As I’ve been thinking about all of this the words of a song I grew up singing at church flashed through my mind, “Choose the right! There is peace in righteous doing. Choose the right! There’s safety for the soul.”

To be honest the best moments of my life have been the simple ones. I love the days when everyone is home and we can all have dinner together and talk politics around the table. Or those moments when I catch my kids being friends and genuinely laughing and playing together. Because of the wide space of age between my kids (16 years) I have purposefully learned not to sweat the small stuff, but to enjoy it and embrace it. So, I should probably write that advice down. I wrote a little about those poignant moments recently. Click here to read more. I feel pretty confident there is no mom alive that doesn’t sweat the small stuff with their first child, but maybe my grandkids might take pause if they read my story. Snuggle more, clean less, read more books, dance in the kitchen every day and say family prayer every single morning and night. My husband and I may not be perfect about much of anything, but we are a family of prayers.

Sometimes the small, simple parts of life are the best.

A story is told in moments

Now I’m not saying that just because you are doing all the right things trials and struggles aren’t going to come knocking at the door, but there are, for some people, huge blessings of peace in obedience for a life well lived and that in itself is worth writing. And that’s what I told this woman who had beauty that sparkled from her eyes! Wouldn’t you want your descendants to know you escaped the consequences of bad choices because you made good ones?

Dinner time is one of the simple moments of life I love best. To be afraid to write about your dinner table conversations. It will job happy memories.

Is it also possible that you are downplaying trials you have had in your life? Not everyone shares their challenges, and you may be a person that doesn’t like to write about them. They may be too deep and too personal. That’s okay, but I would encourage you to write about some of the difficult moments that shaped you. Click here to read more about why you should record the hard stuff. You can start by asking yourself, “When is a time I didn’t know if I would make it?” Or if you are interviewing a family member, you can ask the same question. I think we’ve all had those moments and that question jogs those moments for sure.

Write about the hard stuff.

Need a little more encouragement to write about your challenges? A friend we met recently has Tourette Syndrome and her tic is to make a loud noise, which manifests in church and other quiet settings.  She wrote a book about it called Awkwardly Strong, and I love the way she has embraced it and shares her experience with others. Here’s a wonderful article she wrote called “How To Make Awkward Into an Advantage.”

I’ve had my share of trials, bad choices and hard things that have come because of those choices. Maybe that’s a jumping point for me and writing my own story. When I ask the above question to myself, my husband’s job loss immediately comes to mind. We had three little children and I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t handle it well and I wasn’t very kind to him about it. Tears come to my eyes now even thinking about that time in my life. And as weird as it sounds, we had a beautiful opportunity to experience job loss again two years ago and I had the chance to redeem myself and learn to trust in him and the Lord to overcome the trial.

Do it now and it will be enough.

I found a great article on the New York Public library website listing “20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History.”  So many great ideas. The article states that first person narratives and family stories are important historical documents. Author John Bond said, “The interesting stories in your life have become familiar to you… The novelty of these stories is most apparent to someone hearing them for the first time.” I couldn’t agree more! My mom loves to cook and every Sunday afternoon my kids have cooked with her. She has shared recipes, they chat and have a good time. No big deal. A few years ago my then-high-school-aged daughter wrote an essay about it. She talked about the details of a favorite chili recipe she prepared with my mom, describing the spices, the smells and the conversation.  She talked about how the recipe was her great grandmother’s and she pictured her great grandmother, who she barely knew, making the same pot of delicious chili. It was beautiful and people loved reading about it. They loved reading about it so much she won a big award and lump of cash for her efforts. She wasn’t trying to win a contest, just tell a family story that was important to her, but it touched many other lives, mine included.

Another tip in the article: “Family trees are abstract. Stories add depth.” Well of course they do. Any words talking about that dash in a life are better than no words. How many times have you looked at a date on a headstone and wondered what that life was all about? How many times have you come across an old family story and clutched it to your chest because you loved it so much? I promise your family will do that with your story no matter how silly you think it is now.

In December I had the great opportunity to interview a sweet couple who are slowly writing their life story for their children and grandchildren. There was a sweet spirit in the room each time I interviewed them and even when I was writing it in my own home. Their life is one of love, following their deep religious values and working together. It was especially gratifying to run into them at a local church event and to embrace my new friends. They both said how much their grandchildren were loving reading the first chapter of their love story. For them, whatever they have to say is more than enough those that love them most.

A Forbes article by Mark Eghrari , “When You Pass Away, Don’t Just Leave Assets to Your Heirs. Leave Memories”  also suggests we get personal when we write family histories. Sharing valuables coupled wiht deep personal thoughts,  we should write a story about the items we pass on to give them more meaning.

So is your story enough? It is. Now it’s time to write it. It is a great New Year’s resolution.  Are your parents’ stories enough? They are. Maybe you can help her write theirs too; even short vignettes would mean so much to future generations. A great article on FamilySearch gives some tips too. Click here for details.Now is the best time to start. I promise you will be glad you did.

 Rachel J. Trotter is a writer at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire, and help you tell yours. She has worked as a writer since her college days over 20 years ago. She loves telling people’s stories. She lives in Ogden, Utah and is busy raising six children and loves working on family history alongside her husband, Mat.

The one writing step we never miss – it makes a world of difference

Before finishing a manuscript, read the words out loud. Photo of our client's books all wrapped in tissue paper and ready to deliver to him. Yesterday was one of the best days in a writing project. I got to hand a beautiful hardbound book to my client, wrapped in tissue paper and ribbon for him to open. We started getting together in my studio (living room, if that’s what you want to call it) seven months ago to get his oral history and did  six sessions in all, which amounted to 160 pages of transcripts and notes, and many rounds of editing to get it as right as we could. That moment is always a thrill. You might think handing him his book is the very best day, but in looking back, I’m not entirely sure. I love the process and the time spent together, and one of the best days of all is this: the read aloud session. I don’t recall who turned me onto this technique, but except for rare exceptions, we insist on this with every client story we write. Why? Because when we read words out loud, it calls out ridiculous phrasing and sentences that do not sound like our client. This step also points out typos and reading the entire sitting over one or two highlights sections that drag. It’s obvious what needs more emotion and what can be cut or combined as redundant. Not only do all these housekeeping notes matter, but the process is enjoyable, even poignant, for everyone.

5 reasons to read words out loud:

My mom, Gaye Anderson, the weekend we read her book aloud. We published Every Essential Element after polishing it up.
My mom the weekend we read her book aloud

1. Reading out loud is an enjoyable, intimate experience.

As I mentioned, I don’t remember who tipped me off to this technique early in my writing, but I scheduled a whole summer weekend in Park City with my mom and BFF, Megan to read the draft of my mom’s book together. We checked into a condo and took turns reading the manuscript. I marked it up like a madwoman as we read. I felt a sense of closeness to the two women who have influenced me more than any others. It was my mother’s story (which would be published as Every Essential Element), and we stopped as needed so she could tell additional memories that came to her, or to express concern over any sections. It made the book much better and taught me a lot about how to improve my own writing.

Another experience was when, last winter over several snowy days when the evergreens were draped as though wrapped in chunky woolen scarves, I drove my Corolla with snow tires up the base of the mountain. Norma Kier’s beautiful home was my destination and it felt like a retreat for us to read the Remember When manuscript together. By this time in the project, our friendship had blossomed into a genuine affection or each other (I don’t hesitate to tell her I love her) and we enjoyed this time together. We are like girlfriends 40 years apart in age.

The process felt wonderful and I relished all the times Norma stopped me to recall additional memories or add in details. As we took a break for sandwiches, we looked out the window at white wonderland and fat flakes of snow falling. She told me about the day after her husband Jim Kier died. As they grieved, a bobcat appeared in the yard. It was the only time in all their years living there they saw such a magnificent animal, and it felt like a spiritual experience, as though even the animals sensed something wondrous happening. One of this world’s great souls had began his journey to the world beyond. Norma pointed to me where the bobcat bounded over the fence without effort. Then we resumed our reading, and we shed tears together while reading the emotional parts.

2. Reading out loud catches so many issues.

Get Remember When on Amazon by clicking here

Reading a manuscript out loud is not all tender, though. We noted typos, where words were omitted, and awkward phrasing. I read, and she kept her eagle eye focused on errors. While reading, some of what jumps out at me is the sheer nonsense of words that seem clever on my computer monitor, but are so overblown I would be embarrassed if the world ever knew I had once written them.

I’ll share one example. In an early passage, I was looking for a good word to described how Norma used to get bundled up to go out in the snow when she was a girl in Canada. I had gone through a list of synonyms in my head and had landed on “ensconced.” Seriously, Rhonda? When that word came out of my mouth I realized my pretentiousness. I settled on a word that wasn’t crying for attention like my 4-year-old when I am distracted by my phone.

3. Reading the words out loud highlights voice.

Not only does reading a manuscript out loud point out odd or silly phrasing, it also highlights the voice. The goal when I help a client with a story, is to write it so his or her voice rings true on the page. It should be written so nobody would ever suspect they had help.  Every client has a unique voice and idioms particular to their generation and experience. When I draft a client story, I like to include a few of their verbal tics, and especially their expressions, and phrasing. A cowboy will use different language than a doctor. A woman who came of age in the 50s will speak with a formality entirely different than younger generations. Whether to include swear words is usually a decision of personal taste, and speaking the words together calls the question.

4. Reading a family story out loud brings up real-world sensitivities before it is too late.

As a matter of practicality, in Norma’s case we scheduled the read-aloud session for before we would give copies to her children to review.  Sharing a manuscript with family members is nerve-wracking because if we get it wrong, not only will they roll their eyes but sometimes hurt feelings are hard to repair. I have learned to write early drafts with wild abandon, not worrying what other people will think but rather focusing on heart and emotion. In a later draft, however, it is important in a family history to read it and think about how others might feel about passages before they ever see a  work-in-process. When we read the words out loud, it naturally brings what was only in our heads out into the real world, and we become mindful of these ramifications.

So, as a side note of caution to anyone writing family history, you will do well to expect that no matter how hard you try, there will be some unanticipated sensitivities. Do you have thick enough skin to take it? Can you set your ego aside in order to realize that family relationship are more important than your precious words?

Norma Kier's family. When you read words out loud, it highlights family sensitivities that can be smoothed over in editing before they see it. When I wrote my family’s story, I touched some nerves I did not see coming. Now as a professional, I expect it and do my best to take it without flinching.  I simply accept the feedback and remain true to my personal ethic that my purpose for writing is to bring families together, not drive wedges. I would never want to hurt someone or make anyone look bad. Since I was raised in a family business, I know firsthand that families are funny social units. I also fully understand that every member of a family will have a different recollection of what happened and what it means. Whose memory is correct? When I write stories for publication, I get feedback from family members and work on a collective narrative that everyone can live with. That said, there are also times when I must stand firm next to the client whose voice the story is written in by saying at times, “This is her story. If you wish to write your version, I encourage you to do so.” It’s a delicate balance and requires some diplomacy.

Book cover for Every Essential Element
This is the book my mom and I wrote together about her epic love story with my dad, and their family business saga.

If your personality cannot put yourself into the shoes of a child or sibling whose feelings you may hurt with your words, if you cannot see it from their perspective, if you are the kind of person who takes criticism by coming out swinging, then I caution you against writing about other people in stories you will publish. Write your own experiences and keep it to yourself. Publish it on FamilySearch with the settings as private until after you’re dead. Your relationships in the here and now are not worth letting your ego be in the driver’s seat.

As for me, I have learned then that there is no predicting the ways a story might bring up old wounds, some of which may never have been voiced. Even if  it might seem petty to an outsider, I listen with an open heart and do my best to take these conversations seriously. Once I am aware, I do my best to smooth it over, apologize for my own faux pas (The mistake is mine for not understanding, not the client’s!) and then I get to work editing as appropriate.

In a writer’s workshop I attended with Richard Paul Evans, he asked if a client has ever asked me to change anything.  My response was, “Of course. This is for posterity and I would never want to hurt someone. And not everything a client tells me is appropriate for public consumption. Sometimes passages need to be reworded or taken out and that’s the right thing to do.”

5. Reading out loud is poignant.

Back to the client I gave the book to yesterday. As I read his life story to him, his eyes were misty. Keep in mind that this is a 77-year-old man who lived a life of adventure. He has been a man’s man, yet the experience was emotional for him. The experience felt poignant for me too, and that is why the day we got to read it together may have been even better than the day I gave him the final product. Even though I mark up pages with mundane scratches and edits, it is an intimate experience.Many problems are solved when you read words out loud. Photo of a beautiful leather bound book on a wooden table.

Do you read your drafts out loud? If not, try it!

Do you read the words out loud as part of your own writing process? If not, I encourage you to try it, and predict you will do it forevermore.

Do you have other tricks to share? How do you take feedback? Please comment below because I am always trying to learn and improve my process.

Rhonda LauritzenRhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an old Victorian in Ogden and work together in Evalogue.Life, weaving family and business together.

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links which means if you purchase some of the products we mention by using our links, we make a commission. Be assured that I’m only sharing the methods I actually use, but I do appreciate when you buy with my links because it helps fund articles like this one.

New book – Remember When – shows truth is better than fiction

Editor’s note: This article is written by Rhonda Lauritzen, Founder of Evalogue.Life who co-authored the new book Remember When with Norma Kier. It shares perspective learned by collaborating on this sweeping memoir, and also life lessons from the remarkable Kier family who founded Kier Construction, Kier Management and Kier Corp. 

When I first settled into Norma Kier’s lovely living room to begin helping her write Remember When, her voice sounded soft and politely Canadian, with a certain elegant quality that women had in classic movies. It was not surprising—but still refreshing—she was a woman who went to modeling school and was selected as a runner-up in a big beauty pageant from an era when grace and manners were expected from young people.

This incredible lady, fabulously amazing at 80

(center) Norma Kier, then Norma Jessiman during the Miss Eskimo Pageant

Norma had greeted me at her front door looking gorgeous at almost 80 years old, an age you’d never guess. Her blonde hair was done nicely, her make-up looked better than mine, and she wore beautiful jewelry paired with a form-fitting outfit. Every day she runs errands in tall heels for extra inches because she’s not a millimeter over five feet. That evening, though, she greeted me barefoot because it was her habit then to sprint up and down the stairs. I say “then” because she’s had recent changes in her health, which I’ll get to in a minute, that made us grateful we started writing when we did. At that time, she was working out with a personal trainer and playing tennis, amounting to at least five vigorous workouts a week. Her tennis instructor urged her to enroll in the senior games because  in his words, “you’ll run everybody out.” Also, since Norma has banished flab from her frame, she gets away with wearing anything she wants.

Are people interested in musings of a “Remember When” style?

Jim and Norma Kier while they were dating in the 1950s. This photo of them dressed nicely is taken while walking down the street of Edmonton Canada in the 1950s. Jim Kier was a wonderful business storyteller.
Jim and Norma Kier while dating in Canada

Since we began, Norma Kier has become very dear to me, but in that first interview her words were formal, and the pitch of her voice a little higher than usual, as though she were talking to a newspaper reporter, not a friend. She apologized for being nervous and told me how shy she is. “You, shy?” I thought. I’ve known Norma for many years through the Breakfast Exchange Club and she strikes me as many things: warm, selfless, classy, fun-loving, and beautiful. Shy is not among the words I might choose. Still, that first evening she told me how as a girl, her father was in the Royal Canadian Engineers (Army). Moving from school to school made it hard to make friends and she preferred to blend in and avoided getting called on. When she had to deliver a book report, her hands trembled and she fantasized about a giant hole opening in the floor and swallowing her. In later interviews, I learned that that as the wife of a gregarious, larger-than-life entrepreneur, she stood behind him in a wholly supportive role. Everybody loved Jim Kier and one colleague described Norma as a “First Lady” type of person, hosting wonderful parties and being gracious in every way. She was Jim’s secretary at first, she cleaned the houses before putting them on the market, and she was the interior decorator. She also reared the children and lived frugally so they could invest in the business. When Jim passed away, she participated in a meeting where a male colleague commented, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you speak.”

Get Remember When on Amazon by clicking here

With genuine modesty during that first interview, she wondered if others may not be interested in her “Remember When” musings (referring to the Alan Jackson song) and thought perhaps we would just keep it simple, focusing on family readers. I believe family is the most important audience, so we simply made a pact to take the interviews as they came and tell the story with real heart.

Up to that point, she had been rattling off the sort of autobiographical details that are useful to know up front, but not especially gripping in a story. Names, dates, and that sort of genealogy. Then she said, “Do you have questions for me?” I asked a warm-up question, gleaned years ago from a marriage counselor who uses it to break the ice with new clients. That simple question was, “How did you and Jim meet?”

Ding, Ding! We have a winner!

It was then that Norma told an emotional love story that left me shaking my head with delight. I knew we had a winner. That first story told in our first interview became the opening scene of the book. That never happens in my writing since the opening and closing scenes are so hard to choose.

Related: Become a master business storyteller with these 5 questions

Remember when we were young? Jim Kier while working in Jasper National Park, early in their dating years
Jim Kier while working in Jasper National Park, early in their dating years

The night they met:

When she was 15 years old, Norma and two of her girlfriends were walking to a Friday night dance in a January blizzard and she was hit by a car, her body thrown something like 85 feet, and there she lay in the snow unconscious. After they waited too long for an ambulance, an adult chaperone volunteered to drive her to the hospital and one of the older boys scooped her out of the snow and placed her in the car.  That boy was Jimmy Kier. When she awoke from a coma, Jimmy and a buddy visited her in the hospital and in subsequent afternoons Jimmy skipped school to keep her company. When she was. back at home, Jimmy brought her lessons and tutored her in typing. (Fun note: That was quite the “return on investment” for his tutoring time considering that when she became his business partner she took on all the bookkeeping and secretarial work.)

Then, on the night of her 16th birthday, Norma was heartbroken that a train was to arrive at 11:59 p.m., whisking her family away to an Army town in the middle of nowhere. Before the clock struck midnight, though, Jim proposed. They kept it a secret because her dad would have come unglued, and the next years of being apart were filled with the expectant longing of youth and love letters that kept the two close. They married, and she later told me, “From the time I was fifteen, I never wanted anyone but Jim.”

Jim and Norma Kier with Ronald Reagan
Jim and Norma Kier with Ronald Reagan

Remember when we had just $100?

As newlyweds, they had an employment opportunity in Ogden, Utah and they arrived with $100 in their pockets. Circumstances propelled them into business before they felt quite ready, and for the next decade their little family got by on practically nothing. Norma refers to that as the “scrambled eggs and beans period.” They completed their family with an unexpected pregnancy of twins (Kimi and Kara), and ultimately parlayed that original $100 into a family of companies that did nearly $200 million in combined revenues last year.

A lifetime told in moments

These are the broad brush strokes of their life, but their story is filled with wonderful moments like the day Norma realized she had—quite literally—nothing suitable to wear, and she schemed to write the milk check for $5 over the invoice. Then she indulged herself in buying a pair of shorts with the cash. Or the moment when Jim recounted being a teenage boy, hiding in the school bathroom stall until the other kids left because he had to work as a janitor to earn his keep. As a young man he was in the Canadian equivalent of foster care and although he never shunned hard work, he was ashamed that he didn’t have a family. That teenage boy grew into a man for whom family was supreme. One of his great business philosophies was to treat everyone—including subcontractors, employees and friends—like family. When they became successful they never forgot what it was to have nothing, and supported many community causes, especially those helping children like the Children’s Justice Center and Christmas Box House.

I love the pivotal moment in the story when Jim and Norma came very close to packing up and moving back to Canada because the business was struggling. They dug deep and decided to stay in Ogden, then had their first big breakthrough.

A good example has twice the value of good advice - Jim KierAnother of my favorite vignettes was when Jim pulled a subcontractor’s bid from the running because he knew there was an error in favor of Kier Construction. Jim Kier would never knowingly profit from someone’s honest mistake. The story is told as a one-time moment in the book, but many people told me of similar experiences with Jim. Then it did my heart good to learn about the way their boys Steve and Scott  carry the same integrity and work ethic forward. Steve and Scott have become very successful and Kier Construction is well-respected throughout the west.

At the very end of the book, daughters Bonnie and Kimi, who run Kier Management, completed their biggest and most complex project when they completely renovated the historic Marion Hotel on 25th Street into Federally subsidized housing. It became single occupancy apartments to help the formerly homeless permanently get off the streets. They did a beautiful job and brought together a staggering number of partners and programs to make it happen. It was a grueling sort of final test that would have made their dad/mentor so proud.

Treat employees like family, and have your kids work twice as hard to earn others' respectDaughter Kara is the most artistic member of the family and she often works as a design freelancer with the businesses. She created the book cover.

This is the power of telling business and family stories: to solidify values for future generations who never met the founders. My heart broke when I learned what they went through with Jim’s cancer, and then my spirit soared to see the way Norma rose from the ashes and assumed her role as the matriarch and founder. She found her voice and her place.

Related: Curate your own canon of business stories 

A scare before publication

Dynamite also comes in small packages - Norma KierIn the fall of 2017, Norma’s family and I wrung our hands with worry when, right before publication of this book, Norma suffered a sudden heart attack and stroke. She had taken perfect care of her body, but genetics got the best of her on this one. When she returned home from the hospital, she said, “It scared me, and I’m glad we started this book when we did.” The doctor delivered other disheartening news. “I can’t play tennis or run up the stairs now,” Norma said with some sadness. But she is ever the optimist who has trained her outlook to always look for the positive in a dark situation.  “I can live like this, and I am grateful to have more time,” she said with determination. From a literary perspective, I don’t think Norma’s character arc could be more complete or more satisfying.

It has felt like a profound privilege to write Remember When with Norma and in her voice, and a responsibility for which I have felt wholly inadequate. Still, what a treat to spend such quality time with one of Ogden’s finest families, and to count them as mentors. Norma is one of my heroes and the business lessons I have learned from her are many.

My favorite quotes from Jim and Norma:

People often say, if I worked with my family we'd kill each other. The truth is we didn't always get along but when you make a lifetime commitment you k eep working it out, no matter how many times it takes. - Norma Kier“A good example has twice the value of good advice.” – Jim Kier

“Treat employees like family, and have your kids work twice as hard to earn others’ respect.” – Jim Kier

“Manage your risk and you will weather any market conditions. You’ve got to take risks to make money, but never more than you can afford if it goes south. Last, feed the company first. Always pay yourself after everything else. Lean up and put resources into the company, especially when there’s not enough to go around. If you taste a little success and first thing you go buy a fancy truck and big house, those possessions will own you.” – Jim Kier

“People often say, ‘If I worked with my family, we’d kill each other!’ The truth is, we didn’t always get along. Jim and I had a great marriage, but we would sometimes go the rounds and we each got to have our say. But when you make a lifetime commitment, you keep working it out, no matter how many times it takes. Our children have made a lifetime commitment to each other. They are business partners and best friends. Most of the time.” – Norma Kier

“When the time comes, I don’t want a funeral. Throw a life celebration and my requirements are these: Everyone must wear leopard print and there will be dancing, chocolate, and wine.” – Norma Kier

“Dynamite also comes in small packages.” – Norma Kier

Pre-order Remember When on Amazon by clicking here.

Rhonda LauritzenRhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an old Victorian in Ogden and work together in Evalogue.Life, weaving family and business together.

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links which means if you purchase some of the products we mention by using our links, we make a commission. Be assured that I’m only sharing the methods I actually use, but I do appreciate when you buy with my links because it helps fund articles like this one.

Surviving an avalanche: A story of faith

Snow is beautiful. Snow is magical. It sets the stage for endless fun. But snow is also deadly when the conditions are right. Mike Crowton and a group of his close friends and family learned that earlier this year when they went on a cat-skiing trip in Canada. When a massive avalanche hits a group of 12, someone nearly always dies, but on this day surviving an avalanche turned into a story of faith.

Mike, a devoted dad of  and husband, was born and raised in Huntsville and Ogden, Utah and practically lived on the ski slopes growing up. His father was an avid skier and ski instructor and Mike knows much about skiing and loves it. Mike was deployed as a dentist during the Iraq War for four months in 2005. After dental school in Virginia, he opened his practice in Ogden, Utah and loves being close to area ski resorts where he goes skiing with his family all winter. It’s always been a great way for him to relax and let off steam. In his eyes, putting putting skiing and family together is about the perfect way to spend time.  The group on this trip had been trained to Cat ski and knew about the danger of avalanches – had even seen a few small ones here and there but the group felt they were safe. They were wrong.

An eerie feeling

The 12 men before the near-fatal descent.

On day three of the trip, fresh snow was finally falling, something they had been waiting for. The past two days the weather had been lackluster and snow conditions were not prime. There was great snow in Utah that week and Mike was questioning that it might even be better back home. But not on that third day. It was the perfect storm, they thought in a good way, and they were ready.  They had an avalanche refresher course before heading out that day and the falling snow was beautiful for skiing. It was time to head to the area the group was most excited about – Mt. Macky. Mike had visited the particular spot they were going that day on the Selkirk Mountain Range last year with his two cousins and  friend. It was the spot that convinced him to bring a bigger group back this go-round. The first couple of runs of the day were supreme. Waist-high, light fluffy snow. The best conditions to ski.  As they skied the runs, Mike noticed some snow cascading down the mountain a bit. It gave him an eerie feeling, but he tried to shake it off – maybe he was just overreacting. Mike, his cousins Jake and Ben Rabe and friend,  Jared Flitton all invited different friends and family to make a group of 12. The number 12 was significant because that’s the size of groups that would go on the cat together and travel down the mountain. On one of the first runs, the first pair of skiers got lost from the group. They tried calling and whistling for them to no avail, so they went back up to the top and luckily, they were there. But it seemed to cast a bit of worry and pale on his outlook before the next run.

Related: Power of Place

The group were going down in pairs for safety. A guide would accompany the first two and a tail guide would bring up the rear. The group were all religious men who took very seriously their family relationships, their relationship with Jesus Christ and how those two things work together. They decided to snap a picture before the descent, but an uneasy feeling was still resting in Mike’s mind. Was it his age talking to him? He had always been sensitive to the spirit, and maybe that was what was talking to him. He tried to keep shaking it off. This was going to a be a blast! The skiers started heading down and Mike was in the middle of the group. He would find out later that some of the other men had a bit of an eerie feeling just like him.


“Rocks! Watch out for rocks!” came the calls from some of the skiers ahead. They had obviously uncovered some rocks and yelled for them to watch out for them. After that, Mike sped past the six skiers and the guide heading out further to the left of the large bowl. He stopped himself about 20 yards to the left and 10 yards above the main group. Mike was feeling the burn in his quads as he stopped and was just kind of waiting. He looked across the massive bowl, almost like a gully as he waited for the rest of the skiers to come down. He could hear the skiers yelling from up above. As he caught his breath, out of nowhere he heard a large “woompf” and a huge crack starting seeping across the snow about 20 yards above and slightly to the right of where Mike had stopped.

Mike looked to see a father and son, Chris and Jason Bond above about 20 yards. As soon as he looked, he heard Jason, a very experienced skier yelling “Avalanche!” “Avalanche!” As he looked up, he could see that crack in the snow. Without much thought Mike knew immediately what he needed to do – get out of the way. He quickly dove to his left and buried himself in a cloud of snow. And much to his luck, or what Mike now believes to be divine intervention, there was a large outcropping of rocks, like a cliff or boulder, positioned just above him and close enough that he could dive below them for cover. The snow shot right over the top of the rocks. For what seemed like forever the snow flowed over his head and it sounded like a rushing river. But it was all over his head and he was shielded by the large rocks. Those rocks absolutely saved his life. And about those rocks. Mike’s son, Nick, was serving a LDS mission in Sydney, Australia at the time. Mike learned about a week after the incident that Nick was aware of his dad’s ski trip and didn’t feel good about the trip at all. He prayed fervently for his father’s safety that week. Mike and his wife Emily, feel those rocks were positioned in that spot as an answer to Nick’s many prayers that week. Mike feels confident that it was Nick’s obedience, faith and fervent prayers that protected him that day. One of those mission blessings or even miracles that families experience during those two years of missionary service. But Mike wasn’t the only one spared.

Rich Nydegger caring for Jake Rabe right after they were unburied.

Recovery: A story of faith

Slowly everyone became accounted for, although they were spread out all over. Mike’s cousin, Jake and his friend Jared were down below and they were least responsive. Jared’s brother Brandon Flitton was nearby he was eager to get to his brother, but also wanted to help find everyone else on top.  The only snowboarder in the group, Rich Nydegger, was already down below. There were actually two slides – one right after the other, but each slide affected the group in different ways.

As Rich and the head guide worked to get Jared and Jake out  – the two men landed only about 20 feet from each other after being carried 700 yards – it became apparent that Jake was in the worst shape. Jared had stayed conscious through the whole ordeal, being carried end over end in the snow for many yards. Jake was not conscious. As soon as he was revived, Rich felt the urgency to give Jake a Priesthood blessing. A couple of the other men in the group had joined them by now. Their guide, Kaury, was seeing that things were not looking good for Jake and he told him to do anything that would help.

Rich said this blessing was unlike any other he had ever given to anyone. He spoke directly to Jake. “Jake, this is Rich, Jason  and Tyson (Cox).  We’re giving you a blessing.  You need to listen to what we’re saying!”  He was trying to listen to the spirit for what to say. “Jake, I command you to be healed.” -repeating it again, kind of in a more loud, forceful type tone.  After that, Rich remembered picturing Jill’s face, Jake’s wife.  He had only met her once, four days earlier when they picked up Jake in Spokane at their house.  Rich didn’t know Jake, or Jill or their family at all, but he could see Jill’s face.  Then the blessing took a little bit of a different tone.  Rather than being louder and more forceful, the words were very sure, reverent, confident, peaceful and matter of fact. “You will be healed.”  As Rich thought about it, he realized the command were his own words but  the words, “You will be healed,” were God’s.  Soon after the blessing, a quiet feeling of calm settled over the whole area. Kaury, a self-proclaimed atheist, asked the men what the blessing was all about. Rich explained that the blessing is the power and authority to act for God – as his mouthpiece so to speak in the form of a prayer or blessing. Kaury was intrigued by the explanation and asked many more questions about their faith as he watched the actions of the men that day.

Prayers and blessings

Brandon caring for his brother, Jared (top). Rich caring for Jake (bottom).

That wasn’t the only blessing that day. Mike gave Brandon a blessing before he went to check on his brother Jared who was with Jake and there were more to come. They slowly started to find everyone one by one.

Mike’s good friend from dental school, Clint, called out that he thought he had a broken leg. As Mike went to him he realized his ski was missing, but sticking up out of the snow a few yard away. He slid on his bum to get the ski and slowly moved to Clint. Slowly the rest of the “on top” group made their way to Clint and moved to get out of the path of another slide, although it was not an easy task. It required balance, faith and prayers. Once Clint’s leg was put in a splint, a sloppy one at that, after all Mike was a dentist, not a doctor, the real waiting game began.

Mike didn’t feel cold or even wet through the whole time, but conditions should have dictated that they were all freezing. Maybe it was the adrenaline or just an added blessing, but he didn’t notice the cold and the men didn’t speak of it, not wanting to bring the cold on.

After a couple of hours the first toboggon arrived and was going to take Clint out, but because the injuries down below seemed more serious, they had to take Jake and Jared out then. More waiting. One of the guys suggested they give Clint a  blessing. They were all in precarious physical position to not move snow and start another avalanche and to also keep Clint’s leg still. Mike was the man decided by the group to give the blessing, but he could not reach Clint to place his hands on his head, but somehow Mike knew that Heavenly Father knew his hands were there figuratively. Mike carefully folded his arms where he was and started the blessing. As Mike uttered the words of the prayer, tears started to come. That was exactly what Mike needed, maybe even more than Clint. He felt a calming sense of peace wash over him and knew they would be okay. Mike finished the prayer, asking God  to give them a safe way off the mountain and to heal those injured. That prayer helped Mike over the next several hours – he felt peace and calm and felt that he would need to be the calming force as they would wait for hours with an injured man on a freezing mountain.

Related: Prayer and the uncanny moments that followed

They had no idea how long it would take for a rescue group to arrive. Hours? A day?  The men tried to make small talk – about their careers – all of them dentists or doctors, about church and their church callings, but soon just became silent. Mike didn’t feel cold, but he did feel anxious. He felt the importance of keeping everyone else calm, and because of the blessing he had a sense of peace. They started to communicate with those left in the group below: “Aah-ooh.” they would shout back and forth. Some would start to call out, “Are they ever coming?”  or “We are never going to be rescued!” There was a sense of anxiousness in the air and one of the men started moving around, trying to get out anxious energy. It concerned Mike it might start another avalanche. Mike then responded, “I think I see someone!” Even though he only hoped he did. Finally, he did. He shouted, “Here they come! We are going to be saved!” Mike had known it all along.

Related: One by One


The rescue was precarious. It took time, but finally they were on the cats, headed out off the treachorous mountain. As they climbed on the cat, one of the rescuers exclaimed, “You need a beer!” Mike laughed. “Not us,” he exclaimed. “But I could use hot chocolate!” As they drove back, the guides both commented on the fact that some special things had gone on that day. One of the guides shared about the blessing Rich had given Jake down below.  More questions came, and considering the guide didn’t know if there was a God, he was feeling something…odd. Both guides talked about how unearthly the experience had been. One said he was starting to follow typical avalanche protocol, to ski back and forth down the run, but had a physical sensation of being pushed down the mountain in a straight line. The zig-zag protocol is to find buried victims after a slide, but had he done the methodical zig zag, he wouldn’t have found Jake who was completely buried at the bottom. If he had taken the time to zig-zag he wouldn’t have gotten to Jake in time. A miracle in and of itself. He explained to Mike that he “abandoned” everything he knew, but he couldn’t help himself. Rich also had the experience – the feeling of being pushed. “This is a special group,” he told Mike and the others. There were other “coincidences.” All the men landed vertically, allowing them to get air, they also had space between them and snow. Though many did get buried, every one of them had something – a glove or a ski sticking out of the snow so they could be found. Mike also felt that a secret to their survival was the selflessness of each man on the slopes. As soon as they were somewhat “dug out” they urged those doing the rescuing to move on to someone else. And then as they finished getting themselves out, they joined the rescuers, completely selfless in every way.

The guys getting ready to head down Mt. Macky.

They went to the hospital to visit some of the men needing a stay. Jake’s injuries were by far the worst – 12 broken ribs, broken tibia and fibula, broken clavicle, orbital fractures. The biggest issue now a year later remains his torn brachial plexus which to this point leaves him paralyzed in his right side- shoulder down. It was very difficult for Mike to see his cousin in that state and he was overcome with emotion. He gave him another blessing and was overcome with the peace and feeling he would be okay. And to this day, he still feels that, even though Jake is still recovering and has some movement returning. He is hoping to be able to work as an ER doctor again someday. Mike is impressed with his positive outlook even now.

It wasn’t until around 2:30 a.m. that Mike was finally back in his room with his thoughts to himself.  When Mike spoke to his wife Emily on the phone his words came out in sobs as he tried to explain the power of the day. As he laid in bed, sleep would not come. He decided to pull out his scriptures and landed on a verse that calmed him. It is found in the Book of Mormon:

“…the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.”   -Alma 58:11

What about now

Mike with his children skiing at Sun Valley last winter a few months after the Avalanche.

It’s been nearly a year. The men are still in contact with one another and for some the physical and emotional healing has been tough. Some have been asking, “Why me? Why did I survive?”   For Mike, the experience changed his life.

He knows that each day is gift. His love for the gospel and understanding of it has deepened and he feels grateful for it each and every day. He knows he’s not invincible. He feels humbled to know there is protection there when needed and sought for. He has gone skiing again, but doesn’t know if he will ever head to the back country, at least not any time soon. He and his wife hope that the joy he felt on the slopes will return. He also has gained greater perspective – little irritations roll off his back easier, he feels more accepting of the world around him and feels a bit more in tune for the what the plan of his life is.  Snow for Mike is still beautiful, stunning and yes, treacherous.

Author’s Note: This is part of a longer narrative I wrote for Mike Crowton and his family about his experience. The power of the experience is something that needs to be shared with anyone that questions if God loves them, if he visits us in trials or who is looking for a will to go on. It is a story of faith that needs to be told. So we at Evalogue.Life decided it would be appropriate to share it here. 

I also want to share a list of the men and their role in the avalanche:

The Group:

  • Chris Bond(father to Jason)/Jason Bond- last pair to ski down. Stayed above avalanche. Jason skied down and helped triage Jake and Jared with Kaury (lead guide). Chris remained up top with Mike and his group until rescue came.
  • Creighton Green-  stayed skiers left of the slide, didn’t get buried. Stayed up top then went down with first toboggan to assist with injured below. He had a go-pro on during second avalanche.
  • Tyson Cox- also skiers left of slide. Didn’t get buried. Also skied down to bottom to assist with injured.
  • Brandon Flitton-(older brother to Jared) first person Mike came to and helped unbury. He suffered broken ribs. He slid down to be with his brother. He is an anesthesiologist and was valuable in assisting getting injured to hospital.
  • Jared Flitton-  was swept away by first avalanche and taken 700 feet down the mountain. Buried with one hand out of snow. Quickly found by Kaury and unburied. Suffered a torn acl and much trauma as he never lost consciousness.
  • Ben Rabe (Mike’s cousin and older brother to Jake.) Buried from both first and second avalanche. Creighton and Tyson helped unbury him. He suffered broken ribs and a torn acl. Stayed with us up top until rescues came. He was taken to hospital in the second Cat.
  • Jake Rabe (Mike’s cousin and Ben’s brother). Swept away by first avalanche. Suffered worst injuries- 12 broken ribs, broken tibia and fibula, broken clavicle, orbital fractures. Biggest issue remains his torn brachial plexus which to this point leaves him paralyzed in his right side- shoulder down. Lost consciousness and resuscitated by Kaury. He was taken with Jared to the hospital.
  • Rich Nydegger- The only snowboarder in the group. He skied down with Mike prior to the avalanche. Located skiers right of the slide with me. Somehow stayed on top of the avalanche and escaped being buried. Skied down to help with Jake and others.
  • Clint Iverson- second person Mike came to after avalanche and finished digging out. Splinted broken Tib/Fib with broken ski poles and belts in order to transport to safer ground. Stayed up top until rescued. Rode toboggan down to the Cat to the hospital.
  • Cory Penrod-  buried during second avalanche. Suffered broken ribs and torn rotator cuff. Stayed up top until rescued. Also taken to hospital for evaluation.

Rachel J. Trotter Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on and She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.


Love and Compassion: What I’ve learned since finding out that my dad has cancer

My dad has touched a lot of lives in our community. It’s not uncommon for me to see people in my community and have them ask, “How’s your dad?” The usual, “Fine, he’s still working hard,” has suddenly changed into a much harder response. Now my slow and careful response has changed to, “My dad has cancer.”

Hard words to say

My son Joseph with my parents the night before he left for his two-year mission in California.

To admit out loud that my dad has cancer has not been easy for me.  The last few months feel like they have lasted about 10 years. For a daughter who loves and adores her dad, watching him suffer has been one of the most difficult journeys of my life. I’ve had to step away from other responsibilities in my life, but don’t feel like giving an explanation why. I feel like I’ve been a little judged by PTA moms here and there, but that’s not been my focus. I’ve spent more hours talking with doctors then I ever thought I would or wanted to. I’ve learned far too much about what I never wanted to know – how quickly cancer grows, what it takes to stop it, but not why in the world it has hit one of the best people I know.

Cancer is no respecter of persons

My dad doing his favorite thing – being a grandpa.

I know that’s how everyone feels when someone they love gets cancer. I’ve learned that cancer affects every family. As I sat with my college friends at lunch a couple of weeks ago, either one or both of our parents has had the wicked disease and two of my friend’s parents didn’t survive. Empathy washed over me quickly as I have counted (a number that is too high) people who I know and love – mothers who have buried children, children who have buried parents and spouses who have buried spouses – in recent years due to this deadly disease. I’ve asked myself over and over again – “How did they have the mental and emotional capacity to fight this?” My admiration and respect for them has grown by leaps and bounds.  One of my dad’s nurses sat him down at the very beginning of this journey and told him, “Now this is not your fault. Cancer doesn’t care who you are. You don’t deserve this. No one does. Remember that.” I love her for saying that. I know my dad needed to hear that because as humans we doubt ourselves, our worthiness for some strange reason. I hope he knows he is worthy of so much more than this.

We recently met the lovely author of this inspirational book. Get it on Amazon.

The early stages

We are just in the first round of treatment for my dad – daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy treatments. And his prognosis is good. I feel at peace about it, I really do, but the journey is difficult. I also know that right now he is one of the lucky ones. He still has his hair. He doesn’t have a feeding tube. He can still walk. Being regular attendees at two treatment centers reminds me it could be much worse for him. I hope I never become callous to the pain I see there daily. As I sit and wait for my dad to complete his radiation treatment I visit with others who are suffering. One man told me last week that while his prognosis is okay, he is still getting all his affairs in order. Another younger gentleman and his wife tried to figure out how long he could still work before his body just wouldn’t let him anymore. Another man talked about how he had been in remission for the past four years, but now the cancer is back with a vengeance. His is the same kind of cancer as my dad. Sigh. The thought of it coming back after this rocky path could make me feel physically ill.

My dad’s body is feeling the effects of the poison being pumped into his veins every week and the radiation lighting up his body daily. Eating and swallowing is not easy; it is nearly impossible. Food, (and he is what many would term a ‘foodie’ in modern terms) doesn’t taste good which really breaks my heart. My dad is a Texan who knows what good southern cooking is. I long for him to enjoy food again – deep fried chicken, chicken fried steak, pit BBQ and rolls and corn bread oozing with butter will be at the top of the menu six months from now. But as we sit here today and he’s getting his chemo, what is his main concern? That I’m too cold. Always a dad first – worrying about his daughter.

Related: Dad, Tell Me Your Story

The kindness

While I see the pain and suffering at the treatment centers/hospitals, I also see more good than I can speak of. I have often thought that cancer nurses must receive some special seal of nursing approval to be here. They are gold. Their voices have an extra dose of kindness that make this process more bearable. There is a spirit in these places that is hard to describe. It’s like the veil between life and death is so thin that there are angels among us here. I see baskets with hand-made hats and scarves carefully knitted with love by youth groups and women’s groups. I see tables with puzzles scattered about, donated by generous folks. I see baskets of snacks and treats in abundance. There is constant questioning of how my dad is feeling and me as well. His radiation nurse walks in weekly with a case of protein drinks to make sure he is getting what he needs. The Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City is one of the most beautiful facilities I’ve been in. The views are stunning and there is light everywhere. And I’m sure that is by design. People suffering with cancer need every ounce of beauty and light that they can soak in.

Meg Bostwick died earlier this fall from a brain tumor. She has a two-year-old daughter and gave birth to her second daughter hours before her passing. She grew up in my neighborhood.

Matthew 25:36: “I was sick and ye visited me.”

I have watched the outpouring of love to my family these last few weeks with awe and admiration. Someone having cancer is not new to my neighborhood as I know is true with every neighborhood. Earlier this summer a young mother was taken light years too soon with a brain tumor and last spring another young mother met the same fate. As hard as it was for me to watch then (I watched both women grow up), the gravity of what those families are facing has hit me like a Mack truck. But with this, our neighborhood knows how to rise up. Every week our LDS Relief Society president (I live in my parents’ LDS ward) asks what we need and organizes a meal. My parents’ yard (it’s a big one) was completely raked and bagged by a family. There are regular visits by friends and neighbors to my parents’ home and last week a concerned leader said he felt prompted to pay a visit and offer help to my parents. This last month the women in my neighborhood organized an event to make chemo kits for local hospitals including lap blankets, candies, books, lip balm and other necessities needed by those going through chemo. They also

Kristin Scott Bullock with her family last year. She passed away from brain cancer in May.

honored those two young mothers with photos, their favorite things and their families. We could talk about their memory and express our love. It was a special event. And while this event wasn’t for my dad, it was a sweet reminder of how to reach out and help those who are suffering. I have been touched watching those families continue to testify of their love of their Savior Jesus Christ and how they have felt lifted over the last months. They testify of a knowledge of life after death that they have come to know and believe personally. It is a gift to know them and to hear them testify.

A great celebrating my parents anniversary a couple of years ago.

Their witness is an answer to my prayers in a unique and wonderful way. My friends have also risen to the occasion. Regular texts, messages and calls to see how I’m doing have made a difference in my life. My only sister lives in Texas and so my mom and I are in charge of the everyday care. My mom has been a rock. I work to be the strong one and shed quiet tears when I am alone, but some days I just feel tired and grumpy. Thankfully my husband and children work hard to understand. My son who lives about an hour and a half away calls me almost daily to check in and make sure I’m hanging in there. A gift of love for me.

Miracles along the way

Friends and neighbors of Meg Bostwick and Kristin Bullock, two young mothers who died from brain cancer earlier this year, make chemo kits for cancer patients. The service project was planned in their honor.

The best way to get through hard times of any circumstance is to look for the good – the silver linings – and there have been many. Last July my dad fell at work. He had to have physical therapy and that’s when he discovered the lump in his neck. The fall was a huge inconvenience in his life – but a miracle. If it hadn’t been for that fall, the lump may have gone unnoticed for too long. Prayers and blessings have been the family’s lifeline. My husband gave my dad a blessing at the beginning of all of this telling my dad that this would be a long journey, but he would get through it with the faith and prayers of his spouse, children and grandchildren. We have channeled that big time. My children living at home visit their grandpa daily and he is the topic of every single prayer – even the food ones.  I have two children serving LDS missions right now. My son left when we were waiting for biopsy results just over two months ago. My son was kind of  a wreck about it. My children are extremely close to their grandparents and the thought of losing my dad while he was gone was too much for him to bear. I watched him get more agitated about it that day before he left. That night right when he saying his final goodbyes to his grandparents my dad grabbed his hand and pulled him close, “Now you listen,” he told him. “We will be here when you get back. Don’t you worry about it,” he said. That was what my son needed to hear and what I needed to hear too. After we went and met with all the cancer doctors as we left my dad said, “Well I’m going to have to fight this thing. I made a promise to Joseph.” I know he sees the value in his life in a new way and I also feel a strong sense that his Heavenly Father loves him and me. I always knew it of course, but I feel it in  a way I haven’t before.

Completed chemo kits ready to go to area hospitals.

An honor to serve

I know my parents worry about the time caring for my dad is taking out of my everyday life. But at the end of it all I want both my parents to know is that it is an honor to serve them. It is an honor to sit by my dad’s side and meet any of his needs that I can. It is an honor to give my mom a needed break and give her a few moments to herself. I love the 35 to 60-minute drives to doctor’s appointments and the great conversations we have from football, to politics to education. I imagine that everyone else who has sat by someone they love while they endure this illness feels the same as me. I have tired days, but it is nothing compared to how my dad is feeling.  As hard at is and how hard it is to watch the struggles, it is a joy to give one ounce of the love back that my parents have given to me every day of my life. Today my dad told one of his doctors he can’t wait to truly taste a Diet Dr. Pepper again. I hope I’m there to watch it.

Cancer is the worst. But I see the light of Christ in the eyes of those that serve and that is a priceless gift. In Matthew 25:36 it says, “When I was sick, ye visited me.” It seems like such a simple request, but it means the world.

Related: Losing my mom

Rachel J. Trotter is a writer at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire, and help you tell yours. She has worked as a writer since her college days over 20 years ago. She loves telling people’s stories. She lives in Ogden, Utah and is busy raising six children and loves working on family history alongside her husband, Mat.


Family history gift ideas from $0 to $200

Rhonda’s Top 8 family history gifts you can get before Christmas: 

1. Make a video:

My personal favorite tool for making family history videos is Animoto, which is a paid subscription. Their templates are so beautiful and easy to use, you can totally make a video for your family before Christmas. What a lovely, personal gift to give someone. Here is Animoto’s special 15% off deal going on right now.

2. What’s the hottest U.S. family history gift this year? DNA Kit.

The major companies are still offering holiday sales on their DNA kits. I did both Ancestry and 23andMe, but liked the detailed ethnicity results from 23andMe best. Check out the deals going on now:

3. Our gift certificates have been selling like hotcakes:

We offered our best price ever on video, oral history interviews and custom plans for the holidays. At $80, it’s a deal that we may not offer again. Time is running out to book before the holidays, but if you purchase a gift certificate, we’ll still give you the discounted price. With an interview, we do all the work, and you get a priceless story. So slip a gift certificate to someone you love, and we’ll help you set it up when life settles down after the holidays. Click here to get a gift certificate and read the details. Or call me at 801.917.4299.

16 GB flash drives are about $5 in a pack like this

4. Best stocking stuffer? Get a pack of flash drives

Check out this pack of multi-colored flash drives. I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for a thumb drive, so these will get used by everybody in your family. In a pack like this, these 16 GB flash drives work out to be about $5 each. Get them on Amazon here.

My all-time favorite digital voice recorder - the Olympus WS-852 with built-in USB connection. Click to get it on Amazon.
This is my favorite recorder which has a built-in USB connection

5. Digital recorder – My favorite is an Olympus

My favorite is the Olympus-852 it looks like the Cyber Monday price is continuing throughout the month.  Click here to get it on Amazon.

6. The Shotbox for digitizing photos

This is a tool I bought at a family history conference a while back and then wondered if maybe it was a dumb impulse buy. Nope, I use it pretty much every week and cannot say enough good about how useful it is for digitizing photos and taking photos of heirlooms. It is seriously the fastest, easiest way to digitize big tubs of pictures and I have taken thousands of images using it over the past few months. Click here to get it on Amazon, or use the coupon code below to get it directly from the company. If you’re not sure, drop me an email or call me and I’ll tell you how it works. 801.917.4299.

The shot box is one of our best family history gift ideas
I use the Shotbox every week for digitizing client photos. It’s an amazingly fast and effective tool and I can’t say enough good about it.

7. The Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler

You need to read this book. Seriously, you will find something that will make your family stronger, I promise. I loved this book and have given it as a gift to others.

8. And the big splurge – iPad anyone?

 I can’t help but tease you with the family history tool I use Every.Single.Day.  I use it for recording video, oral history interviews, making graphics, and digitizing documents. A splurge, for sure, but one that will give you a heck of a lot of use.

 iPad 2017 model

My comprehensive gift list follows:

Okay, didn’t see what you want on the top 8 list? Here is my comprehensive list of ideas with prices range from from zero dollars (give your time)  to $200. Best wishes and may you give the gifts that matter most this year.

Disclaimer: If you purchase some of the products with our links, we may make a commission. We really appreciate it! Your support helps us keep writing articles, teaching free classes, and paying the internet bill. 🙂 

Free Family History Gift Ideas:

  • Take photos, slides, or audio files to a FamilySearch center and digitize them for free. Find one near you by clicking here.
  • Make a family video story or tribute to someone using Adobe Spark. Check out this article for ideas.
  • Give the precious gift of your time by interviewing a loved one. Click here to get our free printable –the best questions everyone should answer.
  • Our free interviewing mini tutorial will help you preserve oral history.
  • Our favorite tool for making family history videos is Animoto, which is a paid subscription. Their templates are so beautiful you can make a video before Christmas. Here’s their special 15% off deal going on right now.

Family History Gift Ideas Under $15

Lovely 3-ring binder for printing family history at under $5 each

Here are the current prices and links on Amazon:

Our favorite books we read this year (under $20)

Here are the current prices and links on Amazon: 

If you are interested in LDS books:

Check out their unlimited program for less than the price of one book. Click here.

Family History Gift Ideas Under $40

Family History Gift Ideas Under $79

Here are the current prices and links on Amazon:

Family History Gift Ideas $80 and under

We have 3 service options for $80 each, save $20!

Family History Gift Ideas Under $200

The shot box is one of our best family history gift ideas

Animoto Videos:

If you want to make your own high-quality animated slide show videos, consider a subscription to Animoto. Personal plans are $8 per month, and professional plans are $22 for a year. Note: our holiday promo video on this page above was used making Animoto. So was this personal story of my family making dumplings here. We love this product and use it all the time. Anyway, here is a coupon code for 15% off:

And the big splurge – iPad anyone?

Okay, we promised items under $200, but we can’t help but tease you with the family history tool we have used every day in 2017, the iPad. We use it for recording video, oral history interviews, making graphics, and digitizing documents. A splurge, for sure, but one that will give you a heck of a lot of use.

 iPad 2017 model  

Hot Chocolate Booth at Ogden Christmas Village: a true legend of giving

Chances are you’ve probably been warmed by $1 hot chocolate from the brightly-decorated hot chocolate booth set up just outside Santa’s house at Ogden Christmas Village. But what you probably didn’t know is that the purchase of that hot chocolate goes to outfit about 500 area children with brand new shoes every year with the Shoes for Tots program.

The newly remodeled Breakfast Exchange Club Hot Chocolate Booth at Ogden Christmas Village.

Ogden Breakfast Exchange Club members sat in quiet, humble silence at a recent meeting as a letter was read from a local high school student thanking the club for their shoe donation. “I’m in charge of buying my own back to school clothes and supplies, so having one less thing to worry about made a big difference,” the letter read. The student went on to say how much the efforts meant and talked about future goals. And this student is not the only one. They’ve heard stories of twin brothers who shared the same pair of shoes and alternated going to school who finally had their first pair of shoes to themselves, or kids coming to school with socks and flip-flops in the dead of winter, now with sturdy boots.

A Great History

That’s all because of the efforts of the Ogden Breakfast Exchange. The 40+ year-old club has been warming children’s feet for almost as long as the club has been in existence. The project started when the late Jim Stavrakakis had some connections with social services with the state of Utah and had access to names of children who needed shoes. The group started raising money for various causes by chopping wood, but soon settled on the idea to focus on shoes. They started collecting change in tin cans at various locations at Christmas time, said one of the club’s founders, John E. Lindquist. They would go up and down the parade route at Ogden parades to get donations.

Related: Family recipes are family traditions

It soon evolved into a hot chocolate booth at Christmas Village, even before downtown had a village and it was just lights. There was much trial and error during those years. “It would rain on us,” said Boyd Bingham, a long-time member of the group. When it would “rain” it was from the condensation on the ceiling from the boiling hot water in the booth. They would hold boards over their heads as they poured the hot chocolate for eager customers. That was when they sold from a Coke trailer. Now they have a regular trailer that has been overhauled a few times (even with a spiffy new paint job a few years ago). Ogden Breakfast Exchange member Kevin Ireland said once they got their own trailer selling at the booth got to be much more enjoyable. In the early years, they hauled water from the old fire station, but now they can just get it from the amphitheater and they now have hot chocolate machines that are much slicker than the old way of boiling water and mixing into insulated Cambro dispensers.

Selling hot chocolate nearly 10 years ago at the booth at Ogden Christmas Village.

Technology Helps Service

Scheduling has gotten easier over time too. Ogden Breakfast Exchange member Marshall Konzen is in charge of that task and now does it through an online sign-up program. “We have older guys that don’t know a lot about computers and even they can use it. It’s super easy,” Konzen said. Families sign up for different nights or groups of friends. The main requirement is that one person in the booth be a member of Exchange and at least one person must have a food handler’s permit. Konzen said for some families it’s a big tradition to take a night to sell together. One family traditionally took Christmas Eve the entire time their children were growing up. Giving back was their way to celebrate. “It was special for them,” Konzen said. They moved a few years ago and Christmas Eve has been a little more difficult to fill, but the club always finds someone.

Ireland likes the improvements technology has brought to the booth, but also reminisces about the good old days. “Years ago, it was simple, a bunch of guys selling hot chocolate for a good cause. Now we have to be certified, meet health regulations, and such – just to pour a cup of hot chocolate,” he said.

For the group, one of their favorite time to be there is opening night – the Saturday after Thanksgiving following the light parade on Washington Boulevard. “Oh, we all have to be there for that and it’s crazy,” Konzen said with a laugh. It’s all hands on deck all night, but the end result is worth it. They sell hot chocolate, coffee and cookies all for $1 each every night but Sunday all season long.

Helping Families in Many Ways at Ogden Christmas Village

The club keeps the price low so young families can get warm and not feel the money pinch too much. “We feel like people can afford $1 and we don’t want people to walk away thinking they couldn’t afford it,” said Kristie Nielsen, Ogden Breakfast Exchange member. She loves watching the happy faces leave with a little something to warm them up on a cold night.

All the members got smiles talking about times when families order hot chocolate who have received shoes. Some will say a big “thank you” or just let them know they are there to give back. Ireland is always impressed when people throw twenties, fifties or even hundred-dollar bills on the counter telling the workers to “keep the change.”  “It’s because they know it’s for a good cause,” Ireland said.

The hot chocolate and supplies are donated every year in one way or another, Konzen said, so all proceeds go for the shoes. They earn between $10,000 and $15,000 each year.

Shoes for Tots

Ogden Breakfast Exchange member Chris Zimmerman oversees the distribution of the shoe coupons every year. That process has also become much easier with technology. “In the old days” as Zimmerman puts it, each member was in charge of a school and finding who needed shoes. They then distributed the gift certificates from various shoe stores. Now they get gift cards in $25 increments from Payless Shoe Source. Counselors and teachers from Ogden and Weber Districts watch for children who need shoes and then can “place an order” so to speak on the website for the shoe coupons. The coupons are given to parents so shoes can be purchased. Zimmerman said the gratitude over the shoes is overwhelming and special. His wife is a school teacher and one of her students was coming to school with duct-taped shoes. One day when he went out to recess she tucked some gift cards in his back pack and informed the mother. “When he came to school the next day, he was beaming with his new shoes,” Zimmerman said. The thing he likes about working with Payless is that if parents watch the sales, they may be able to come away with two pairs of shoes with their buy-one-get-one-free offers.

The coupons are distributed throughout the year, Zimmerman said. Sometimes more are given out at Christmastime just because it’s the start of the cold weather season and counselors and teachers see such a need when the weather changes.

For the Kids

Ask any Ogden Breakfast Exchange Club member why they spend the hours at the booth each Christmas season and the immediate answer is, “The kids.” They also love hearing the stories related to the Shoes for Tots program. For Bingham that’s the best part. Both Bingham and Lindquist said it is something the Breakfast Exchange can never stop doing because of the impact it has on the community. “Have you ever seen a 5-year-old get their first new pair of shoes?” one Ogden Breakfast Exchange member asked with a grin. “That’s why we do it.”

Coco movie reminds us what is truly important – family – past, present and future

Last night I sat surrounded by my family, feeling happy, loved and spiritually moved. Happy tears may or may not have been streaming down my cheeks, my husband’s and pretty much everyone in my family.I was in an extra good mood, because along with my family came a huge tub of hot, buttered popcorn and coke with lime. I was at the movies. The movie was Coco. 

I don’t usually review movies, but I must say, go see the Coco movie and take someone you love, preferably someone from your family. I knew the movie was based on a young boy and finding out about his ancestors but I didn’t know the layers of truth that would be uncovered in the two hours I watched. They were truths I’ve always known and believed, but there’s something about a story being told through the eyes of a young child that captures you and makes it feel all the more strong.

There were a few beautiful take-aways from this movie that make it a must-see for all families.

My Grandma and Grandpa Jackson. My daughter Eliza Mae is named after my Grandma, Shirley Mae.

We naturally connect with our ancestors

In the movie the young boy, Miguel, is trying to figure out how he fits into his family. He has a deep love for music, but because of things that happened in his family’s history, music is banned from the family. But he can’t resist it and sneaks off to listen, play and enjoy music. Through a series of mishaps, he discovers that his great-grandfather was a famed musical talent, revered by many. The movie focuses around  Día de Muertosthe Day of the Dead, and his families great traditions surrounding the special day. Miguel ends up a ghost on the other side with the dead and in the process discovers much about his ancestors and himself. 

This movie had my heart from the beginning as I watched this boy try to find a way to connect with his family somehow when he felt he didn’t fit in. His family had a bond that he wanted to respect even though it was difficult for him. I think this is an innate quality we all share and the reason why we work so hard to find our ancestors. I know this is true for many members of my family. And the amazing thing is, almost always we find someone either just one generation back, or several, that we have a common talent, common interest or just way of doing things where we mirror them.

The other day my 6-year-old was giving me a hard time about leaving the house. She’s a homebody and didn’t want to go. I pulled out all the stops and grabbed my vast selection of lipsticks and lip glosses and told her to pick one. She of course picked the brightest, shiniest shade of the lot. I smiled. I also felt my Grandma Jackson (for whom my daughter is named after) smiling in heaven. Because she too never left the house without the brightest, shiniest lipstick. The thing is, my little daughter has a several character traits like her great grandma, Jackson, even though she passed away nearly two decades before she was born. I like to think the two of them swapped some stories and plans before my daughter made her appearance on earth.

This movie brings that out in a glorious way. The awesome part about this is that I can look at each of my children and see traits of their ancestors and see them in myself and my husband. But I know this, because we know their stories!

Remember, remember, remember

One of my favorite lines of the movie went something like this: “If we don’t remember our ancestors who have gone before by telling their stories, they will disappear from our memories.” The first tears started rolling down my cheeks then. This is true. Coco focuses a lot on photos and hanging them up so the ancestors know to come and visit because their photos are the memories. How many of us have photos of our ancestors hanging in our homes? I know I don’t have enough, but I have some. I am determined to change that. When I went to visit my aunt in Texas last summer she had an old black and white photo of my great grandparents hanging up just inside her front door. What a great example for me. She remembers. We all talked about our ancestors that day because of that beautiful photo. She has others too – scattered all through her home. A priceless treasure. The power of music and memory also plays a key role, too. It’s completely sweet when it happens and there is much truth to it.

Family stories connect the generations

One of the most poignant takeaways for me was the relationship young Miguel had with his grandmother, great grandmother and really all of his family members. Although he was confused about who he was, his love for him family was fierce and at the end of the day, that is what he wanted. But he wanted to know and understand the stories of the past to figure out who he was. Some of the moments I cherish most in my life are the moments spent with my grandparents, hand in hand, talking about life. I long to do it again someday. Those stories they shared with me  buoy me up on hard days and help us to be better, try harder. I have watched my husband and others on this journey as well – with living and dad family members. I know one day at a Trotter family reunion when sweet words of spiritual promptings written in a journal helped my husband understand himself better and it also helped me see his divine potential. All because a story was written down and shared just at the right time.

Our ancestors are close by

I have always felt strongly that my ancestors are very aware of my life. I get those nudges in dreams when my life is particularly stressful, or even when things are smooth sailing. Coincidences happen where I feel a connection to someone who has passed that isn’t really a coincidence at all. I hear stories daily of people who are touched to find an ancestor in their family history work and by some miracle just stumble upon it. They are around touching things up, I am sure. This movie also validates that thought in a spectacular way.

While this may seem like Pixar is paying me, I promise they aren’t. But some days, it’s just good to see that not everyone is Hollywood is marred by bad behavior and that they get it right. The got it right with this one. Go see it! But above all else, hold dear the takeaways. They are the best stuff of life, I promise.

Rachel J. Trotter Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on and She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.

Thanksgiving Traditions – Making it one of the Best Holidays of All


I am a fan of holidays. Some I love more than others. Of course, Christmas is at the top of my list with Independence Day a close second, but ranking up there in my top five is of course, Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving traditions are what really brings it home for me to be honest. Thanksgiving is the closing of one terrific season and the opening of another all in one day. For this post, Rhonda and I wanted to share our  Thanksgiving traditions, or in some instances, non-traditions that make Thanksgiving one of our favorites. We hope as you read, you will be thinking of yours and decide to share them with someone you love as well.

Aah, Fall

Fall evokes so many great memories for me. It seems when every new season comes along I think to myself, “Aah, this is my favorite season.” But the reality is, fall is it for me. My family is a football family and as weird as it sounds, marrying someone that shared my love of football (especially BYU football) was a requirement for my husband. Luckily, he is a bigger fan than me and that has trickled down to most of our children. The changing colors, the crispness of the air, the anticipation of the holidays, it’s all good stuff. I also think that for me, as much as Thanksgiving has constant traditions – turkey and all its trimmings, pumpkin pie and rivalry football, it’s the holiday where the Thanksgiving traditions have grown and changed over the years.

Thanksgiving traditions – growing and changing

As a little girl Thanksgiving always meant getting to hang out with my most beloved friends – my cousins.  We would play games for hours, chat around the table and make guesses on when we would be adult enough to sit at the adult table. Funny thing is, when we finally were, we just all wanted to sit with each other anyway, so we never really morphed up. One of the big parts of Thanksgiving were the name cards, which my mom and my aunts always found some clever way to let us know where we would be sitting. These were the days before Pinterest, where crafty ideas had to actually come from your own brain, or from Good Housekeeping magazine. I remember one year we took sugar ice cream cones and tried to “steam” them into cornucopias. This would be what we call nowadays as a “Pinterest fail.” We still used them though. My cousins who were my same age and I would often sneak around after our moms had laid out the names at the places and switch them around so we would be assured to sit by each other. As we grew into teens, going to the movies together on Thanksgiving night became the new tradition. We felt so mature and it was the big thing to take all the little cousins to the movies. This tradition lasted well into our early twenties even after some of us started to get married.

My grandparents are now gone and our extended family is a bit too big to all gather together. Roles are changing a little. My husband and I now cook Thanksgiving every other year. (We go to his parents where they still do the cooking on those other years.)  We decided to tackle this cooking task when we wanted more leftovers! Plus, we like cooking together and with the fast pace of our lifestyle that rarely ever happens, so this works. Our imgres-3first Thanksgiving cooking experience wasn’t the best though. We had never cooked a turkey before. My husband Mat was at the helm of the project, but we had several nearly fatal flaws along the way, because I’m really not a “stand back and watch” kind of gal – I had plenty of input to give. We used one of the portable cookers and put the turkey in the bag – that’s what you do, right? Well guess what? The sides of that oven are close to the good old bird and the bag melted right to the oven. When we realized it, we quickly removed the bird to carry it over to the sink to re-group and it fell flat on the floor. It was one of the moments that you either laugh or cry.  We chose to laugh at that moment – not to say there weren’t a few cuss words that preceded the laughter. We followed the 30-second rule, picked up the bird and washed him off. We cleaned out the roaster and started over. Until, now, no one but me, Mat and my 6-year-old son ever knew about that mishap.

Thanksgiving 2016 at the Trotter home.

The other fun tradition that has come along is the night before Thanksgiving pie cooking. We do this every year because I take pie to the in-laws too. This started when my oldest daughter, now 19, wanted to learn how to cook. For the longest time it was just the two of us and every year we try a new recipe. Some delicious, others, not so much. Last year my 10- and 5-year-old girls joined in the project and it was such fun – many hands make light work, right? Well, maybe not, but in the end we learned that we love chocolate chip pie and that frozen cranberry pie is better left untouched. This year we will stick with the chocolate chip pie and try out a caramel apple cranberry concoction. Pumpkin is always left to my mom and Mat’s mom…not ready to take over that tradition just yet.

Bucking some Thanksgiving Traditions

Rhonda’s family made some changes to theirs a few years back and I love it! Her thoughts about “bucking the Thanksgiving tradition trend:

Do you love or hate huge Thanksgiving reunions? I mean the kind where little cousins chase each other in circles and you end up sitting on the floor because there are not enough chairs. As the youngest of seven children, this was our norm and I actually loved the pandemonium. My husband is also the youngest of a big family but he lands on the opposite end of the spectrum (in all things, but that’s a post for another day). He may be the world’s shiest introvert, and is also a big time foodie. Feast-on-a-paper-plate is not his idea of a good time. So when we got married he had a request, “Can we start our own traditions?” I totally agreed, even though it involved some difficult phone calls. “Mom, I have a new family now. It is time for us to do our own thing on Thanksgiving.” We tried to be loving about it, but also firm. It is important for every couple—especially with a blended family—to make our own way. We have cultivated some traditions from the families we grew up in, but Thanksgiving is all ours, baby.

Our idea of a Thanksgiving feast involves seafood.
Our idea of a Thanksgiving feast involves seafood.

Let’s not forget the eating part

To go along with a few differences at the table, Rhonda has some great insights there as well (and I might go knock on her door this year)!

Is turkey a holy sacrament at your supper, or are you like, “meh?” My love of the bird comes later, like nine o’clock that evening when I’m rebound-hungry. Then we break off big, meaty chunks and stuff it into a white roll with crisp lettuce and mayo. That’s food of the gods right there. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Somehow, though, I’ve always been indifferent to turkey as the main event because I am a “sides” kind of girl. Give me a heap of yams and I am a happy clam.

Rather, our idea of an ultra-special meal involves crab legs. With a small group usually including our friends Tia and Alan, we can save up budget and splurge on this. So from our first year together, our Thanksgiving meal became an indulgent spread of seafood and accoutrements. My husband makes it really special. By the way, he is the resident chef and truly the man can COOK. As an artist by nature, he places meals in front of us that are veritable works of art

Giving Thanks

Making pies with my daughters last Thanksiving.
Making pies with my daughters last Thanksiving.



And let’s not forget the reason why we have the holiday at all – giving thanks. This is big for me, but has been a tradition is little rough in the onset. I now have my family convinced to go around and state what we are thankful for, and oftentimes my kids get the ball rolling with both sides of the family and I love them for it. My life is full, sometimes I joke that it’s a little too full. I hope to have gratitude every day, but what’s better than a whole day to reflect on our blessings?

What are you grateful for? What are your Thanksgiving traditions? What can you ask your extended family and friends when you see them this week? Click here for some tips on getting the conversation started, reflecting on the greatness of your life, or telling some of your great traditions.


Rachel J. Trotter Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on and She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.