Small Town Living at its Finest

Some of the things that attracted us to Midway were its small-town appeal, charming Swiss architecture and mountain living with easy access to city life. Unfortunately, a lot of other people feel that way and Midway is experiencing a population boom. We’re part of the problem but my gosh, if we’re not going to join the fight to slow down development.

Charleston is bordered by Midway to the North, Heber City to the east, the Wallsburg Rise to the south, and Deer Creek Reservoir to the west. It is a mostly rural community (last census in 2000 listed a population of 378 but it’s grown since then) and they have smart measures in place to prevent over-development.

Midway just elected a new mayor and I was reading the results in our newspaper, The Wasatch Wave (albeit a week late because, you know, it’s a weekly). And I LAUGHED OUT LOUD at this funny announcement: “Due to Charleston’s Mayoral Election ending in a tie, a coin toss will determine the winner.”

The plus side: At least it wasn’t a duel.

The First Annual Utah Giant Pumpkin Party & Weigh-off!

I’ll admit I wasn’t too thrilled that Jamie wanted to go ahead with the pumpkin party this year. Our backyard doesn’t have any grass so I knew if it rained, it would turn into one big mud pit. But he persisted because he put a lot of effort into this season despite the MANY obstacles he has endured (winds, deer, cold nights) and was somehow able to crank out two of his biggest pumpkins (after his legendary 1,200-pound Stanley, of course).

We nervously watched the weather forecast all week and it wasn’t good. Rain. Then snow. Then back to rain again. I was convinced the whole thing would be a bust mere hours before the soiree. We decided to set up all the food in the garage and people could choose to eat inside to stay warm and dry. The weather miraculously cleared an hour before the party (apparently God is a pumpkin lover?) and we were left with a cool, brisk night.

We weren’t sure what kind of a turnout we would get for the party so invited everyone we knew and lo, they did come–we estimated about 75 people! It was a fun night but part of the problem with having the food in one place and the pumpkins in another is I didn’t get to have a stitch of food…nor was I around to refill plates and drinks. I definitely failed at my hostess duties because all the action was in the backyard.

The one picture I got of all the pumpkin treats…my pumpkin cheesecake trifle.

Moving onto the guest of honor: Meet “Jumbo” the pumpkin! I loved seeing everyone’s shocked expressions as the forklift lifted that bad boy out of the patch. There’s nothing quite like your first time.  At the party, my friend Kelly asked, “So, do you grow anything else?” What? Like food you can actually EAT? Silly woman.

I love our friend Jordan’s expression

My dad was able to visit for the week from Canada and he timed his trip around the Pumpkin Party. Here he is hanging out with Jamie’s dad, Duane.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be with so many friends and family. One of the things I miss the most about Colorado is having our house brimming with  people…I am continually frustrated we don’t have a finished backyard or basement so there’s nowhere for the kids to play. During the party, tons of them were roaming the field behind our house and afterwards, Porter, Callie and Ellie stayed to hang out.

This picture is the aftermath of a whipped cream fight. It would appear Hadley and Porter lost (or were they the winners?)

There were two different weigh-offs two weeks apart. Thanksgiving Point is the larger event where the growers bring their biggest pumpkins. Jumbo was 943.5 pounds and Jamie took fourth place. 

Two weeks later at the Hee Haw Farms weigh-off, Jamie’s weird-looking “Cujoe” somehow beat out “Jumbo” and weighed in at 965 pounds.

Hadley lost her plant early in the season and Bode’s “Ugly Duckling” pumpkin weighed 210 pounds. Both boys took fourth place.

All in all, it was a successful first growing season in Utah. Jamie is planning to install a high tunnel (similar to a greenhouse) in the corner of our lot, which should help with our weather challenges. As happy as he was with the final results, he was reminded how far he still has to go. Matt McConkie consistently dominates the competition and this year, he set yet another Utah state record: 1,974 pounds!

Jamie loves driving home from the weigh-off with his pumpkin in tow because of all the attention he gets. One man yelled out to him:

“Did you win?”

“No! I took fourth place.”

“How far were you behind first place?”

[Long pause] “1,000 pounds.”

Looks like our pumpkin boy has some catching up to do.

My Pumpkin Party Nightmares Revealed

Tonight is our First Annual Pumpkin Party in Utah and apparently I have just a few anxieties about it, most notably the fact that there is rain in the forecast and our backyard is one big expanse of dirt a.k.a. mud pit.

But little did I know it was much worse.

Last night, I dreamed I was in a Bishopric meeting with several ward members that was more like a business meeting because we were reviewing company numbers. A man in our ward, Jordan, was snoring on the floor and I whispered to Jamie, “Let’s not sleep next to HIS tent for the ward camp-out” and I was freaking out because it was taking forever and I still needed to setup for the party.

When it was finally finished, Jamie and I cut through people’s garages and yards to make it back in time but he was much faster and took off. Then I got attacked by a pack of five dogs and I shouted to him to help as they bit me but to no avail–he was long gone. I frequently have a dream that I’m in a dangerous situation and I try to call out but I can’t because I’m paralyzed in fear. I finally bit one of the dogs and released myself.

As I was racing out of the yard, I started talking to my former neighbors in Colorado, Angella and Steve. Angella would always go above-and-beyond with bringing the best pumpkin treats for the party + she and her family would pose in costume with The Great Pumpkin every year and send the picture to all her clients. They were great supporters of The Beast.

“I’m going to make my pumpkin treat tomorrow morning,” she said.

“Tomorrow? Why would you do that when the party is tonight?”

I learned the terrible truth: Jamie had put the wrong date on the invitations.

Then my alarm went off and I woke up in a panic.

Jamie says my dream confirmed to him that I have issues and my reply to that is it confirmed to me that when pumpkins are involved, he will leave me to the dogs. 

The End

The pumpkins during happier times in Colorado. Note: I don’t even remember taking and posting this picture, or that Fox News came to the house. I found this picture in a Google search

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:

Oh Canada: The Drive

Our annual trip to Canada was cut short because Hadley had Young Women Girl’s Camp mid-July and then BYU volleyball camp the first week of August. My brother Jade got married so our time in Calgary was frenzied helping with the flowers and wedding prep, and we only had five nights at Lake Okanagan in Vernon before driving back to Utah with my nephews, who hung out with us for a week while my brother was on his honeymoon. It was a craaaaazy two weeks!

The drive from Denver to Calgary is 19 hours so the kids and I would always break it down into two days. Now that we’re in Utah. the drive is a 13-hour shot straight up I-15 so I figured would could do it in one long day. Jamie would fly up to meet us later in the week.

My Honda Pilot is a 2003 and our plan was to get a new vehicle last year…and then we moved and are stilling dealing with the never-ending expenses. Fortunately, my car has worked great all these years and we hoped it would hang on a little while longer.

Prior to the road trip, I took the Honda Pilot in to get the oil changed. The kids and I were eight hours into the drive, just 30 minutes past Great Falls, and all was going well.

Until we started going up a hill when the transmission light turned on, and there was a strange smell. I pulled over and called Jamie, who called various auto repair shops in Great Falls. It was 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday night and most of them were closed so he instructed us to spend the night in Great Falls and take the car into the dealership in the morning. 

So, that’s what we did. After a memorable evening in the Super 8 on the seedy part of town, I took the car in and they gave their diagnosis: The place where I got my oil changed had either overfilled the transmission fluid or put in the wrong stuff. It had spilled and burned up the entire underbelly of the car. They drained  and replaced the fluid but were unable to tell me if more serious damage had been done. They gave us about a 50-50 chance of making it. SWELL.

The kids and I started driving. We joked as passed the place we had pulled over the day prior when, not even 100 feet beyond that point, ANOTHER WARNING LIGHT LIT UP ON THE DASHBOARD, this time for the four-wheel drive. I pulled over. The kids asked what was going on and I explained there was a different problem. Bode, ever the optimist, observed,

“Well, at least we made it farther than last time.”

We would make it to Calgary but when en route to B.C. the week after that, the car started smoking in Banff. We eeked our way to Vernon where we became acquainted with yet another Honda dealership that charged us $1,700 in labor to replace a plug (they had to dismantle the entire engine to put it in). On a wing and lots of prayers, we made it home to Utah with my nephews in tow.

So, what’s the status of the car? We’re not sure.  It’s only worth about $5,000 so we really don’t want to dump another $2,000 into it when we’re planning on selling it but we can’t yet afford to buy another car. So we wait. And hope and pray it can hang on just a little while longer, just like the rest of us.

Happy 11th birthday, Bode!

Happy 11 birthday, Bode!

It has been quite the year and I think our move has been the very hardest on you. When asked what your favorite place in the world was, you’d always respond “Home,” and you were deeply rooted to our family, your many friends and our Colorado adventures.

Arvada besties Nicky and Vinny

You were the Big Man on Campus at Vanderhoof Elementary. You’d grown up with everyone and were beloved by all as they voted you to the Student Council. You prided yourself on being obedient, smart and kind and had some of the most wonderful friends whom we miss every day.

You’re slowly rebuilding and finding your place here. You had the short stick in the draw–entering fifth grade in an alternate universe of a 5-6 Intermediate School which closed down this summer. You’ll be bumped up to middle school, which means you’ll have to start over yet again as the youngest in the school. But like most things you try to make the best of it and rarely complain, even on the really hard days.

You quickly rose to the top of your class and your teacher divulged that the kids came to you for help in math before her. All the students were given laptops during the school year and this was just an excuse to read silly memes and obsessively check your online grades.  One day as you dramatically read each itemized grade to me, Hadley interrupted. I told her, “Hadley, can you hold on? I’m listening to Bode,” which prompted you to reply, “Nevermind. They’re all straight A’s again.”

I spent a lot of the school year worrying you hadn’t yet found your Tribe until I chaperoned a field trip in May and was relieved to see you with a group of fun, respectful, athletic boys who radiated goodness. At church, you’ve made some good friends with the Seversons and Jonas. You had a blast doing the Kids Adventure Games with your ski buddy,  Porter, despite the fact he was like the Energizer Bunny. When his bike chain kept slipping off because he was incorrectly changing gears, you confessed, “I was glad when it kept happening because he never wanted to stop and rest.”

Kids Adventure Games

You’ve been a part of Webelos this year and earned your rank. You (and, let’s be honest, your dad) won the Pinewood Derby, a great way to leave Cub Scouts with a bang. You and your fellow technology geeks took free coding classes at the library and learned such monumental skills like learning to hack a website. In the spring, you once again dominated rec soccer despite having your dad as the coach (which we’ll both agree isn’t always super fun). We were relieved when you opted to do rec soccer again this fall despite the fact that many boys your age are competing in competitive, which is akin to selling your soul (and free time) to the Devil.

This summer, you attended a week-long adventure camp at Keystone Science School, a golf camp last week at the Homestead and took a weekly fishing clinic at Wasatch Mountain State Park. Our travels have been  minimal this year due to our tight finances but you’ve enjoyed returning to Colorado a couple of times to see your friends and our favorite place on earth: The Broadmoor.

You and I had quite the winter together. You agreed to try Nordic Ski lessons at Olympic venue Soldier Hollow so twice a week I volunteered in your class for the sole purpose of skiing for free.  You took six weeks of ski lessons at Sundance Ski Resort where you fine-tuned your skills. You and I were also the only two in the family with free passes to Park City Ski Area so our accumulative total number of ski days this year was 30+. I’m not sure if it was all the cross-country skiing you did, but something clicked for you and your downhill skiing is better than ever. You attempted double-black diamond McConkey’s Bowl and have become a solid, excellent skier who wants to ski more challenging terrain than your decrepit mother wants to ski. We made the financial sacrifice to buy everyone season passes next year because what’s the point of living in the mountains if we can’t enjoy them? Eating is highly overrated anyway.

McConkey’s Bowl

Though you’re still as snuggly and kind as ever (but only in private; you can’t lose face in front of your friends), I’ve seen little signs of distancing yourself away from us and the occasional pre-teen moodiness. You’ve been a complete ray of sunshine for many years so it’s to be expected that some dark clouds of teenage-dom should loom but here’s for hoping they aren’t here to stay.

Minecraft Sunset

You’re a pleaser and even when you don’t want to do something you’re asked, you do it quickly so you can get back to the fun stuff. Like video games. Lots of them. If I didn’t have any kind of monitoring system, you would play 24-7 so I’m hoping you’ll grow out of this technology addiction that is your Achilles heal and the source of your occasional moodiness. We have the most beautiful sunsets in our backyard and one day I told you, “Bode, look outside at the gorgeous sunset.” You quickly glanced up and then down. “On Minecraft there’s a beautiful sunset, too.”

You only tolerate the piano but to your credit, you’ve stayed with it. However, you really like listening to popular music and your favorite artists include Imagine Dragons and Daughtry. You and Fat Kitty have finally become besties. For years, you were his least favorite person in the family because you wanted to maul him with love. You’ve always been patient.  First, there were Hadley’s beloved stuffed animals, Tabby and Lolly, whom you loved in secret while she was in preschool and you were thrilled to pounce on them when she moved on. Fat Kitty has proven the same. Though she still adores him, he doesn’t have the same appeal as make-up and boys so you have become his caretaker, feeding and taking care of his every need. You have been rewarded with his long-anticipated affections. Your brother from another mother now goes to your bed to sleep with you first, the ultimate badge of honor for everyone in the family except your father who doesn’t understand The Grandeur That Is Fat Kitty.

For your “friend” birthday this year, you invited Jonas, Porter, Eli and Charlie to the Aqua X Zone obstacle course on Jordanelle Reservoir where your inconsiderate sister proceeded to break her arm. Undaunted, you all bravely carried on as she was rushed to the ER. :-) We are currently in Calgary for your “real” birthday. We generally have a big family celebration that has been bumped to Thursday night and you’ll have to share the spotlight with Uncle Jade for your family dinner the night before his wedding. Something tells me that you won’t mind so long as you get to celebrate with Timbits and video games on your big day.

Aqua X Zone

If you remember anything about your first year in Utah, I hope that you remember that you are loved–both by your Colorado friends and family–and by your new ones here. You can do hard things and I have no doubt that as you continue to climb to the top that the summit views will be spectacular.  Just know that we will be cheering and loving you no matter where we are on that mountain. Always.



P.S. For a stroll down memory lane, see birthday letters 1, 2, 3, 4 56, and 7, 8 9 and 10.

Earning your Webelos rank

Provo Canyon ziplining


Broadmoor Brunch

Park City

Killer Coders Jonas, Charlie and Eli

14er Pikes Peak

Keysone, Colo.

Coach Dad


The Cookie Monster(s)

The now-extinct carrot cookies

Another one from the draft folder. 

If my family has an achilles heel, it’s my homemade cookies. What can I say? They’re just that good and I have mastered the art of making ‘em in Denver (trust, me, high-altitude baking is an art).

The problem is I can’t ever make enough–they’re gone in record time.

I make everything from gingerbread cookies to oatmeal to sugar to chocolate chip to Scotchies. Recently, I had a craving for my mom’s old-fashioned carrot cookies with orange butter cream so I found a recipe and made them. I was careful not to mention that they had carrots to the kids (you know, the whole cookies + veggies thing might not go over very well) and quite predictably, they ravaged them like wolves.

Not even 24 hours after I made them, the entire batch as gone. As I looked into the empty cookie jar, I dryly observed to Jamie:

“You people have a serious cookie problem.”

“Yeah, the problem is you don’t ever make enough of them.”

The Light, I See the Light!

Here’s another post from January of last year I never published. Our first family newsletter still makes me laugh!

My goal for January was to purge and organize our home and I’m happy to say I have finished this major undertaking except for the garage. THAT is a project unto itself. Though I try to clean it semi-annually, Jamie ALWAYS wreaks havoc after pumpkin season and there are fertilizer spills, tarps and who-knows-what-else.

I had big plans to clean the garage on Saturday but was struck with the plague.

Me: “I have bad news. I’m too sick so we can’t clean the garage today.”

Hadley: “That’s the bad news? What’s the good news?”

“You get to do your regular chores today.”

Compared to cleaning the garage, that is welcome  news.

I’m still under the weather, which is a particular bummer because we’re having OneHeckOfASnowStorm and it’s depressing to be stuck indoors. I did very little adventuring in January but February will be filled with some of my favorites including Glenwood Springs, a family reunion at YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center and The Broadmoor for my birthday. Lackluster January 2016 is well beyond me!

When you’ve lived somewhere for 12 years, it’s amazing how much you collect and it’s been fun to stroll down memory lane. One of my favorite things I uncovered was our very first family holiday newsletter that we sent December 2004. I started blogging shortly thereafter and it’s obvious I needed a creative outlet because I. Was. On. One. Do you know those families that sugarcoat tough years? I did the opposite because make no mistake: our transition to parenthood was rough with our sleepless 6-month-old Hurricane Hadley.  I’ll publish it here for your reading enjoyment.

Johnson Family News

For unto us a child is born, Unto us a daughter is given. And the parents shall be at her fingertips. And her name shall be called Wonderful, Crier, The Mighty Hadley, The Insomniac Babe, The Princess of Pandemonium. -James 24:7

We are pleased to announce that we have [barely] survived the first six months of parenthood! Between starting a business, building a home and birthing a child, there is never a dull moment.

Hadley’s Happenings

Hadley loves hiking with the Colorado Mountain Mamas and is very displeased when she is stuck indoors. She is known as the social butterfly of the babies and tackles them upon contact. “Why” is not in her vocabulary “admittedly, her only vocab consists of “Wah, I don’t want to sleep,” and “Wah, I want food NOW.”)

When not hungry and overtired, she is a complete joy and loves to laugh, have food fights, roll over, yank Mommy’s hair out, dance for Daddy, bounce off walls (literally in her Johnny Jumper), take baths, attack her friends and pull all-nighters.

There is little question who she resembles most with her spirited personality and looks; Jamie is just glad she has his brown eyes to verify that she is indeed his offspring.

Amber’s Anarchy

Amber’s transition from Adventure Travel Writer to Adventurous Unraveling Mother was reminiscent of her Murphy’s Law life. Though relieved Hadley was not born a black baby with buck teeth (as her prophetic dreams foretold), Amber became very familiar with the hospital before and after the birth. She had emergency on her finger a week before delivery but was displeased when it did not preclude her from diaper duty. Then, there was the infamous Bleach Incident a few weeks later when Amber made a trip to the ER after dumping a gallon of bleach in her eyes. The ER has since issued her a punch card; one more visit and she wins a free ambulance ride.

When not frequenting the hospital, Amber enjoys hiking several times per week with Hadley in a local hiking club. Amber has met several outdoorsy moms and her social group is now based in Boulder–the Granola Capitol of Colorado. She is proud to say that she is the only non-Vegan in the group and has yet to be force-fed tofu.

Jamie’s Jabber

Jamie continues to manage the operations and meltdowns at the Denver Newspaper Agency. He also launched a wedding website business and has successfully partnered with more than 15 national newspapers. As the helm of Customer Care, he enjoys correspondence with neurotic and emotions brides across the country. He claims it makes his own estrogen-overdosed household seem less neurotic and emotional.

This past summer, Jamie slaved in soil that made the frozen tundra of the Motherland look like the Garden of Eden. He installed a sprinkler system, sod and even single-handled carried one-ton rocks across the yard…just for fun. Publicity Amber claims he accomplished these great feats on a mere five hours of sleep. Five hours over the course of five months, that is. He is also the Ward Mission Leader at church and relishes in his early-morning meets on the lone day he would have been able to sleep in.

When asked what inspires him, Jamie replied, “Fear of Hadley. Must do what Hadley says. Must not anger the Hadley. Must keep Hadley from crying!! Must get Hadley to sleep!!! KEEP THE HADLEY HAPPY! MUST KEEP THE HADLEY HAPPY!!!!”

Couple’s Corner

We feel so blessed this holiday season to celebrate the birth of the Savior with our beautiful baby in our new home. We wish you all the best in 2005 and of course: “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night(‘s sleep!)

Meet Ralph

I come from a warped family that loves loves loves to pinch zits. Both of my nieces have been trained as estheticians so they are PROFESSIONAL PIMPLE POPPERS. Whenever anyone has a lovely growth forming, we go in for the attack.

So, imagine my delight when I noticed lovely minefields of puss forming on Hadley’s pubescent face a few years ago but imagine my dismay when she wouldn’t let me anywhere near them. She only acquiesces when she has hard-to-reach ones on her back during the summer (her vanity trumps her disdain).

Last week, the beast of all zits formed on her chin. It was so big it deserved a name so I christened him “Ralph.” We’ve shared many tales of Ralph over the last several days and he has become the sixth member of our family after Fat Kitty.

Ralph is finally starting to clear but he’s still a big, red scab. After Hadley’s accident, Jamie took her to to the hospital in Park City. As the doctor was asking her questions about her fall, he pointed to her face and said, “Did you also hit your chin on the way down?”

Jamie jokingly interjected, “No, that’s Ralph.”

Let’s just hope he’s one family member who’s not here to stay.



The man wants MEAT

As the story is told, recently after my Grandma and Grandpa Wilde were married, my grandma (who was an amazing cook) make them a robust salad for dinner. My grandpa, a hard-working farmer took one look at the ‘rabbit’ food and demanded, “WHERE’S THE MEAT, VIRGINIA?”

Without another word, he walked right out the door to his mother’s house for dinner.

She never made that mistake again.

I try to have meatless dinners at least once a week but I’m married to a meat man. The other night, I made Cuban black bean and cilantro rice bowls topped with Tomatillo salsa, avocados and onions.

I made the mistake of asking everyone what they thought.


Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even if they are your in-laws.