Pumpkin widow reveals ugly truth behind pumpkin growing

I joked with Jamie that despite the fact I’ve long worked in the media, he has been interviewed way more times than I.  Never mind that he’s never actually won a pumpkin competition (besides his first one); the media swarms to him like honey.  That Pumpkin Man is newsworthy, no matter the size of his pumpkin.

Last week, he posted a picture of the pumpkin in our valley’s private Facebook group and asked to borrow a chain for lifting. The comments and “likes” were over-the-top. He had the Wasatch Wave (our valley’s newspaper) reach out and ask him to send a picture. They made him the front page feature story. 

Then yesterday, Fox News called him late in the day and requested an interview. It was such a last-minute decision that Jamie asked if they were having a slow news day. Reporter Jeff McAdam responded, “Actually, it’s a really busy day for news. We had a plane crash in Ogden today and we’ve had non-stop hurricane, flood and wildfire coverage. We needed a ‘soft’ news story that wasn’t depressing.”

If there’s anything that brings joy, it’s a giant pumpkins. Watch the news story on Fox 13 or see below.

The Fox news story:

Jamie and Amber Johnson have a handful of terms of endearment for one another, but there’s one that’s off limits.

“Definitely not pumpkin,” Amber Johnson snaps. “One time I went to bed and there was a seed where I normally lay and I thought, ‘Have I been replaced?’”

You see, Amber’s husband has another love. She says he keeps it in the backyard, and waters it twenty minutes a day. It’s a 1,000 pound pumpkin.

“If you were to ask my wife, she’d call this an obsession, I call it a passion,” Jamie Johnson responded.

It’s a passion that started for Johnson a decade ago after he grew a few “small” pumpkins in his backyard in Colorado.

“I had a couple pumpkins that were decent size, and I took the bigger one to a local weigh off and ended up winning first prize of 141 pounds. I was hooked.”

The state weigh-in takes place on September 23rd at Thanksgiving Point. The current record was set by Matt McConkie in 2014 with a pumpkin weighing 1817 lbs.

“This one’s still growing,” Johnson said as he pointed out the biggest pumpkin in his backyard, which he estimates weighs around a thousand pounds.

He feeds his pumpkin about twenty minutes of water, and about 12 different kinds of fertilizer, including sea weed and fish parts.

He says the best dirt for growing pumpkins sits on a geographical line between Rhode Island and Oregon, known as the “Orange Belt,” but, he says, the biggest key is the seed.

“The seeds that I’m growing, I can tell you who mama and papa are 25 generations back,” Johnson said. “The mama seed was 1985 pounds.”

Johnson has lots of pumpkin growing tips and advice, and even writes his own blog. His advice can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/giantpumpkins/?pnref=lhc

My Ugly Sweater Coming Out Party

For years, I have wanted to go to an Ugly Sweater Party so imagine how delighted I was when I was invited to 9News’ fete. I mean, to debut my first first ugly sweater on television is quite the coming out party!

The problem came when I tried to track down an ugly Christmas sweater at the local thrift store. The selection had been picked through so I opted for the most gaudy sweater I could find but tread very carefully. After all, one woman’s ugly sweater is another’s treasure. I bought some tacky ornaments to glue gun onto the sweater but crafts and textiles aren’t exactly my forté so I hesitatingly asked my husband if he thought I could pull it off.

“If anyone call make an ugly sweater, it’s you, Amber.”

He was joking. I think.

And yes, I find it ironic that the photographer completely cut out my ugly sweater in this photograph.

Happy Halloween From, The Great Pumpkin

Last week, TaRhonda Thomas from 9News asked me if I’d be interested in doing a segment on fun, easy treats for Halloween.

Fun? Easy?  Are there any better words to describe me?

The problem was Bode’s school Halloween party was around that same time so I initially turned it down but then remembered I’m pretty much the Queen of Halloween and how could I miss such an opportunity?

I decided I could arrive late for Bode’s class party but proposed to 9News that maybe we could just tape the segment earlier in the week and I could bring the giant pumpkins as backdrop so I wouldn’t have to miss it at all.  They didn’t go for that so I’m still going into the studio Halloween morning before racing back to Bode.

HOWEVER–they also loved the giant pumpkin idea so TaRhonda asked if she and photojournalist Chris could come to the house on Tuesday. The Great Pumpkin is always open to publicity and I assumed they’d do a quick interview with Jamie and be done with it. I was still in my workout clothes when they arrived as I had no plans to take part but before I knew it (1.5 hours later), they pulled both of us together for some hilarious scenarios that I think will make for a really fun pumpkin piece.

Cutting open the Great Pumpkin

Or it will be utterly humiliating. But that wouldn’t be the first time. (See: NBC’s The Marriage Ref).

Breaking Bad and the Giant Pumpkin

We’re calling this a twofer. Fox 31 asked to come to my house to interview me about crystal meth action figures yesterday, they saw my husband Jamie’s giant pumpkins and interviewed him after.

Jamie is now claiming the media is going through me to get to him.

File this under ‪#‎YouCan‬‘tMakeThisStuffUp.

Fox 31 aired the story last night. The one with me in it; I’m sure the giant pumpkins will appear on some breaking news story sometime.


Big Media Day!

During an overwhelmingly stressful week (Hadley’s pneumonia is still going strong), Jamie and I were both featured in the media today!

I was hired by Johnsonville to do a segment on 9News about warm breakfasts for cold-weather days (HIGHLY recommend their new fully-cooked sausages; my kids are obsessed and I love they take only 30 seconds in the microwave).

I’ve done a variety of news segments–from fashions shows to travel tips–but never anything on food. Though I love cooking it, let’s just say styling it ain’t my forté

I’ll stick to eating from now on, thankyouverymuch.

Television newsrooms are never boring. In the past, I’ve shared the green room with the firefighters from the pinup calendar. Today, it was the Ringmaster from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

The uproarious dude makes ME look and sound like a wallflower.

In other news, when I checked my email in the middle of the night (we won’t even get into how I’ve been waking up ravenous at 3-4 a.m. since I started Paleo), I found a note from Bill Orchard of our local gardener’s group:

Hi Community Gardeners,
Check out today’s  newspaper for an article on Arvada’s own giant pumpkin grower Jamie Johnson.
Look for him this weekend at the Festival of Scarecrows and the Giant Pumpkin Contest.
Yes, he will be available for interviews and autographs.
“Signing autographs?” HELP ME.
The Denver Postrequested an interview with Jamie a couple of weeks ago. He was sheepish because this has been a crappy growing year but it was a bad season for most of Colorado’s growers. Between hail storms, a lot of rain and yellow vine disease, not very many plants made it to the scale.

Read the article and his video interview here.


And yes, I like that the reporter linked to one of my former columns in the newspaper about Jamie’s obsession and quoted me as saying “there was not full disclosure before the marriage.”


Give that dude a Pulitzer.

Getting wired on 9News’ back-to-school fashion segment

I’ve fallen into a routine of appearing on 9News every month, usually around the time my column in the Denver Post is published. Though the experience still has a measure of stress, I’ve filed it under the “this is good for you to get out of your comfort zone so suck it up” file.

What I was not expecting when my kids appeared in last year’s 9News fashion show is how much they would love it. In fact, all year long whenever I filmed a segment, they would get all huffy with me. “Why aren’t we doing it with you?”–like the show couldn’t possibly go on without them.

So when back-to-school rolled around again, I figured I’d get them off my back and do the segment again, though it is a colossal undertaking to work with the clothing stores, figure out the styles and then present it all like I’m some sort of fashion aficionado. One thing I had going for me was my models from last year were all game for Round 2: my kids and two great teens from church, Stephanie and Bennett.

My kids had a blast getting outfitted at The Children’s Place. OK, Hadley has a blast; Bode was appeased when I told him he could pick one of their Angry Birds shirts as a reward.We did a few dry runs prior to The Big Day while I told Stage Dad Jamie to watch Tom Hanks’ eloquent performance in the spoof Toddlers & Tiaras for inspiration.

Our segment went live at 8:40 a.m. and we had to be at the studio by 8:20 a.m. so I told the teens to be at my house by 7:20 a.m. Bennett planned to follow us there in his car while Stephanie asked if her mom could drop her off at 7 a.m. on the way to work.

Unlike last year’s chaos with sick Hadley throwing up in the parking lot, I just knew this would would be different. The day dawned bright, beautiful and early. When 7 a.m. rolled around, I waited for Stephanie. Then 7:05 a.m. No problem. They were running a bit late. By 7:15 a.m. I started to panic. She’s a responsible kid and maybe something had happened. When Bennett rang the doorbell at 7:20 a.m., I was in full panic mode as I texted and called Stephanie. No response. By some stroke of luck, she had left her mom’s cell phone number on her voice mail so I called immediately.

“Where is Stephanie?” I choked out.
“Who is this?” she asked.
“Amber. She’s supposed to be here. We need to leave right now for the fashion show.”
“No, it’s not until Thursday.”
“Nope, it’s today.” Today being Monday.

Then it was her mom’s turn to freak out. “She’s at home sleeping. She thinks it’s Thursday. Don’t worry. WE WILL BE THERE.”

I didn’t know how. Her mom was at work and she’d have to race home, drag her teen out of bed and be at the studio in less than an hour but I didn’t question it.

I white-knuckled the 30-minute drive, at one point telling the kids, “why don’t you sing me a nice song to alleviate my stress?” upon which Hadley belted out, “Make it… Stephanie. You will make it!”

Not exactly the distraction I was hoping for.

We arrived at the studio shortly after 8 a.m. and much to my shock, Stephanie arrived a few minutes later with her mom apologizing profusely. My blood pressure levels started to go back down until, at 8:15 a.m., 9News’ sports reporter Suzie Wargin spotted us and said, “You’re late. We’re going live in five minutes.” And then those stress levels shot up yet again. Late? Late for what and why was she the one doing the interview?

She quickly realized she wasn’t looking for us (whew!) so we hung out in the Pit (newsroom) until it was our turn. Jamie had arrived by that time and we were soon ushered in. Kyle, one of my favorite reporters, was to do the segment with us and I got wired. With a microphone, that is. Believe me, my adrenaline levels were plenty wired on their own.

We hoped to do a quick run-through so the kids could see where they needed to stand when Kyle suddenly learned over to me and whispered, “we’re up next.” Problem was the cameras were suddenly on me and I had no way of telling Stage Dad Jamie we were live and not just practicing. Good thing the kiddos performed like champs, eventually figuring out this was no rehearsal. (See the segment here).

As for me? Good thing I have a year to recover before the next back-to-school fashion segment drama.

Denver Day Trips, Back-to-School and More

Has it really been a week since I last posted? My sister-in-law Jane was going me to send me some photos of our B.C. lake adventures but I’m sure she’s busy so it hasn’t happened yet.  Hence the delay on my part. Oh, and because I’ve been too busy playing lately.

In the interim, we’re cramming in lots of goodness these final weeks of summer. And here’s a news item for you: I have very rarely complained about the heat. Of course, I was in Canada for much of July but that still leaves of couple of months of whining/misery.  Denver’s temperatures have stayed in the low-90s with the exception of a few horrendous days and I’ve realized I have learned to survive so long as the temperatures do not get above 94 degrees, after which all bets are off. You will note I said survive, not thrive.  And I am, indeed, counting down the days ’till fall and ski season.

So, we’ve been busy. The kids have less than two weeks ’til school starts and we’re cramming it all in. Yesterday, they did a fashion show on 9News, which I’ll write about later (never a dull moment, I tell ya). For my Denver Post column this month, I detailed Hadley’s lovely debut last year on the news and the (literal) mark she left on show business (think: puke).

Read it here:
Back-to-school clothes savings, the hard way  and also,

Colorado moms save on back-to-school.

In other non-school-related-news, I wrote about the best Day Trip from Denver–Peaks and Pies in Colorado’s Backcountry for Travel Mamas!

Hanging with the big guns at 9News

The first Monday of the month is always a big one because that’s when my column comes out in The Denver Post and I usually do a segment on 9News to promote it. Here are the articles:

Hadley’s birth story (you may have seen it before).

Mother’s day gift ideas

Setting up Mother’s Day picks

But that was not the big news: some buff firefighters arrived to promote the latest Colorado Firefighter’s Calendar. I was dying to get a picture with them but they were taking forever in the studio and I would’ve had to fight off all the female employees who kept finding reasons to sneak onto the set.

And really, who can blame them.  It was one rough day on the job.

Busted: My Denver Staycation Secret

My life has three phases: Busy, Really Busy and Crazy Busy. I’m somewhere between the last two as I try to get caught up from a week in Canada and prepare for the kids to be out of school for Spring Break.

When 9News contacted me about doing a daily series this week about Denver staycation ideas, I said 1) Thanks 2) No thanks and 3) Gave them another option. I fed them some suggestions of area activities and that I’d be happy to present them at the beginning of the week and they could dispatch the reporters the following days. Win-win. They get the content, I keep my sanity.

So, I raced into 9News yesterday, 5 minutes later than the allotted time due to traffic but with a few minutes to spare before I went on-air. Prior to going live, a producer or reporter usually comes to prep me regarding what we’re talking about but there was none of that. Seemed everyone else was Crazy Busy, too.

A staffer came out to where I was sitting. “They’re ready for you,” and led me into the studio. The anchors were live and I was to slip in silently while they read their stories, hook up my microphone and then, BAM, the camera turned to me without any prep work whatsoever. If it had been my first time, I likely would have passed out but since I seem to thrive in the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants lifestyle these days, I was able to pull it off. It also helps that Kyle and Gary are pros who made it really easy. (I have a list of my Denver staycation ideas here).

Following my segment, I posted a picture on Facebook of me at 9News with the caption, “Wrapped up a 9News segment on Spring Break staycation ideas in Denver with anchors Kyle & Gary. P.S. Don’t tell them I’m going to Park City.”

My friend Kristy left a comment regarding a funny experience involving a trip we had taken that I had forgotten about. My first job out of college was as the illustrious ski reporter for SkiUtah on all the radio stations.

I was surprised by just how much I loved radio. As a broadcast journalism major at BYU, our training focused on a bit of radio and mostly TV, but all our reporting was serious, hard-news stories. But as the Craaaazy Canuck ski reporter, I could be zany and  fun and developed some fabulous relationships with the on-air DJs who included Tom Barberi, the longest running radio personality in Utah history, and KSL legends, Grant & Amanda.

My job was obviously to tout Utah skiing, something I loved doing as I skied 13 of their 14 resorts that 1997-1998 season. I had also started freelancing as the travel editor for Sports Guide Magazine so when I was invited to cover Jackson Hole, I kept it on the down-low. I invited two of my former mission companions–Kristy and Susan–and we had a F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S spring break in Wyoming.

Well, my ski reporter replacement slipped that I was in Utah skiing and land almighty, the media got a kick that “Miss SkiUtah was skiing in Wyoming. I even got called out in Rolly & Wells, the Salt Lake Tribune’s gossip column.

A write-up in your city’s famous gossip column for your first job out of college?

My life has been on the decline ever since.



Let the crazies begin!

We’re just back from a few days at The Broadmoor (and I still need to work on my official write-up), I leave for our annual Snowmamas summit at Park City Mountain Resort tomorrow and the following week I am doing a 9News segment on holiday gifts along with a secret trip for the kids that will require a lot of work. All good things but the next three weeks are going to be so crazy I feel like I can’t keep up.

Case in point: 9New interviewed me for a story about work opportunities for at-home homes that I completely forgot about until the reporter emailed me yesterday to tell me it was airing.