Relationship Dynamics

Fifteen years ago, the Pumpkin Man and I were married in the Denver LDS Temple for time and eternity.

Every marriage has ups and downs but the challenges we’ve have been faced with the last couple of years have been staggering. The last month has been particularly difficult but I’m so grateful to have such a steady, loving, strong and funny man by my side. Despite his own suffering and pains, he has risen to uplift and support the rest of us and I’m forever grateful.

I found this gem from the archives and it still rings true today

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This may come as a surprise to you but I can be high-strung.

Or maybe this is not so shocking to those who know me.

I married a great man who is easy going. I have known from the get-go part of what makes our relationship work so well is how we balance each other out.

* I blog.

* I love eating pumpkin.

* He grows giant pumpkins.

* He blogs about his pumpkins.

See? Match made in heaven.

But it wasn’t until our recent ski trip to Keystone that I had an epiphany about it all. We had arrived at the resort and were unloading the car to check-in. As usual, I was stressed about something. Because that is what I do. And as usual, he tried to calm me down.

I have just accepted that this is the dynamic of our marriage. Sometimes I am appreciative. Other times, it annoys me. What if I don’t want to calm down? What if I am completely validated in freaking out over this?

But last week, I was struck withgratitude that he always talks me off the ledge. And I wondered what my life would be like if I married someone who was not a calming influence in my life. Someone who fueled the fire instead of harmoniously extinguishing the flames.

It would not be pretty.

I have been in relationships like that. I once dated a guy who was exactly like me. I know–it is alarming that this is possible. His strengths were my strengths, his weaknesses were the same. We were both journalists, loved the outdoors and were passionate souls ready to conquer the world. In the beginning, we were on such a high–we were the perfect match. I was so thrilled: I was dating myself!

But then we hit the wall. We didn’t compliment each other in the least. We didn’t learn from one another nor grow together. And then I woke up with dread one morning: I was dating myself. Worst. Thing. Ever.

How grateful I am to have married a man who appreciates my strengths and buoys me up from my weaknesses. Happy 15th anniversary, my love!!!

Christmas 2017: It’s a Wrap!

Christmas 2017 is a wrap! Jamie’s family has some lovely traditions and they are kind enough to let me integrate a few of my own.

Saturday

With Christmas on a Monday, our schedule was thrown a bit of a wrench because many of our activities fell on Saturday. It didn’t make much sense to drive back and forth from Salt Lake City (about an hour away) so when we saw snow was in the forecast, we stayed Saturday and Sunday night at Linda’s.  Jamie’s brother Chris drove out from Denver so the whole clan was here, which made for a tight squeeze at Grandma Linda’s Inn but was still fun.

The brunch at Grand America was our first stop. Linda is kind enough to treat the whole family and I love this tradition in one of Utah’s fanciest hotels. The selection isn’t nearly as extensive as The Broadmoor (which has ruined us for life) but the food is still delicious. They took way too many reservations so there was a long wait for the food–a line that wrapped all the way around the dining room–which is really pathetic at a buffet.  But trust my good husband to issue a complaint and get four of the meals comped because we’re those people.

Side note: Pay particular attention to Bode’s expressions. He’s a real joy with pictures right now. :-)

We took family pictures in the courtyard in the snow, Chris chucked a snowball at Jamie (can’t wait to see that photo) and we dispersed back to the hotel to check-out the life-sized gingerbread house and candy windows. From there, it was off to see “The Last Jedi,” which got two thumbs up from us all! The rest of the day/night was pizza gorging and hanging out at Grandma’s.

Sunday

The whole family attended church at Grandma’s ward and it was one of my most memorable Christmas Sundays ever! They combined with the Spanish-speaking congregation and having the service entirely bilingual was so touching. We were surrounded by Spanish-speaking families and I got choked up to hear them sing…and then we joined them to attempt “Silent Night” in Spanish. There were several times during the service when the speakers and singers were moved to tears and it was just so memorable to be reminded that we are all part of this big, beautiful world bonded together by our Savior, regardless of what language we speak.


Jamie’s sister, Tammy, threw a wonderful Christmas Eve party complete with my family’s pipe bells, the gift exchange game where Linda was the grand prize winner of my white elephant gift: a beautifully framed picture of The Pumpkin Man. Tammy is an amazing cook and we had smoked pork tacos and figgy pudding for dessert, and watched A Christmas Carol and the story of the Nativity.

The bells!

On the drive back to Grandma’s, we stopped at Temple Square to the see the lights. Zero crowds + the Salt Lake Temple appearing like an apparition in the flurry of snow and lights = a peacefulness that breathed the very spirit of that holy day.

Monday

Christmas!!! My loving(?!) husband excitedly woke everyone up at 7:15 a.m., which I suppose isn’t nearly as bad as my brother Pat’s family who always wake up around 4 a.m. (proof of “Crazy Canucks” is in the puddin’). I made breakfast bake with Hollandaise sauce and our famous Ebelskivers for a yummy Christmas breakfast…and the wait wasn’t nearly as long as the Grand America.

Growing up, our family’s tradition was a bit of a free-for-all with paper and presents flying everywhere. Jamie’s family is much more civilized and they elect a Santa who hands out presents and everyone takes turns opening them for all to see. It’s a bit tedious for kids (like me) who just want to get on with it but it makes the moment last longer.

A few gift highlights:

Jamie: We seem to always forgo presents to each other and pool our financial resources into other presents for the kids and family. His big gift for his birthday a couple of weeks ago was a new suit, which he proudly modeled as his “birthday suit.” His mom bought propane tanks for his new greenhouse and that will be part of my dad’s gift as well (we’re sure fun people). Jamie also bought a few Echo Dots to smart-wire our house.   He claims “Alexa” is the only woman in the house who actually listens to him and does what he says. 

Bode: Aunt Lisa and Grandma bought him a Kindle Fire and my dad sent some money to buy our own gifts so we loaded a lot of books and games onto his Kindle Fire.  Jamie also bought him a drone, only to find out (too late) it doesn’t have a video camera. We figure we’ll do an upgrade once he figures how to fly it without crashing! He loves games of all kinds so scored several classic board games like Mastermind and Rummikub.

Hadley: We’re trying to finish decorating her room so she got some lights and clips to hang pictures and we’re still searching for the perfect portrait for above her bed.  She got a tripod for her camera, Grandma Johnson bought her a lot of clothes, while Grandpa Borowski got her VANS and volleyball shoes. She was excited to get Alexa in her room because she can finally listen to music (we don’t allow phones/computers in the bedrooms); however, we have more sinister plans like wake-up calls and turning on the lights to get that teen out of bed. She had her phone taken away the week leading up to Christmas so she said her favorite gift was getting it back on Christmas. Note to self: Don’t waste money on presents next year; just regift items they already have.

Me: Now that we live next to The Best Pathway in the World (the Provo River Parkway), I bought some new roller-blades from my dad. My blades are 20+ years old and my sole outing last summer on my decrepit blades was rather disastrous. Jamie surprised me with some gorgeous new KEEN hiking shoes and I got some cookbooks and kitchen items as well.

Jamie’s parents received a financial settlement from a lawsuit so generously gave each of their children some money, as well as put some in each grandchild’s college tuition account. My first thought upon receiving their gift was to make a smart investment but Jamie’s plan made more sense: to pay down some debt. We’re still climbing out of all financial messes of our move…and the car troubles from last summer.  We’re almost out of debt and vowed to be completely debt-free before taking more on with getting another car, landscaping the backyard and finishing the basement. We had a good chuckle when we realized my Pilot is as old as our marriage–a 2003! It’s no wonder it’s falling apart.

Our 2017 had a lot of highs and lows as our first full year in Utah but I’m hopeful that this slow rebuilding process will start to have some dividends in 2018. Here’s to a great one!

The poisoning

OK, I don’t know if I was really poisoned but for 24 hours, I had a really bad case of food poisoning, Norwalk Virus, or something wicked this way came. I barely left my bed yesterday except for my memorable jaunts to the bathroom. Exhausted and starving, I was awake all night because I’d slept all day and “woke up” feeling even worse when I saw the tornado that had been unleashed in our house.

I’m not sure if my family has some sort of physical ailment that prevents them from putting dishes or anything else away so I spent the morning cleaning their C-R-A-P and doing the laundry.

When I complained about it to Jamie, he told me,”It’s our way of showing just how needed you are around here.”

It’s sure nice to be loved.

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.

Two middle schoolers and one update

I still have many end-of-summer updates but I’m embroiled in the middle of a major deadline for a feature story I was commissioned to write for AAA Encompass Magazine. I never procrastinate but this is one assignment I had to put off until the kids were back in school because I knew it would be way out of my comfort zone. My dad is coming for a week so I’m trying to get the majority of it written so we can tour him around. Here are a few updates in the interim:

  • Middle school is fine. I’ve mentioned the fiery pits of Hades we endured the last few months of seventh grade but so far so good. The kids are quasi-enjoying themselves, half the school has a crush on Hadley so she’s a giggling, texting teenager (but still bombing math) and Bode has acclimated to changing classes. I’m bracing myself for the worst but pleasantly surprised the bottom hasn’t fallen out. Yet.
  • I have made a point to never over-schedule my kids but having tweens/teens is a different ballgame. They used to play for hours outside with friends or with their toys but now, downtime to them means technology time and I’ll be darned if I let them waste away in front of their screens so it’s a daily battle. Bode’s schedule picks up this week and he’ll be juggling piano, rec soccer, coding class at the library and 11-Year-Old Scouts. Hadley is the bigger challenge. She’ll have volleyball and skiing this winter but for now, the only thing she has a desire to do is photography. Fortunately, that gets her outside but I’ve given her fair warning she needs to figure out something active these next months–for her sanity and my own.
  • The devastation in the world has felt overwhelming. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  An earthquake in Mexico and the west set ablaze by wildfires. I’m not a doomsdayer but it’s tough to ignore the many signs of the times and we’ve been studying them in the scriptures with the kids at night. Nothing has hit closer to home than when my BFF Stacey sent me an article that my beloved childhood playground–Waterton Lakes National Park–is on fire and teams are trying to save the iconic Prince of Wales hotel that stands as sentry over the valley. This crap just got real.

  • On a lighter note (or rather, literally much heavier), pumpkin season is in full swing and despite so many challenges growing in a new environment (that include deer, snow, cold nights and extreme winds), Jamie has managed to crank out a respectable pumpkin that is measuring around 800-1,000 pounds. We’re throwing our annual pumpkin party next week to confirm to our new friends just how strange we are and then it will be off to the weigh-off. Our local newspaper is publishing a picture of his pumpkin tomorrow and the chamber is trying to finagle the pumpkin to make some celebrity appearances at local media events. If he was well-known in Denver, he’s going to be downright famous in our little valley.

Let the games begin!

 

More little miracles

I briefly wrote about some of our financial woes this summer…but with the perspective that there are a lot worse things going on in the world and this is (hopefully) a temporary bump in the road. For the time being, we’ve scaled way back on everything. No back-to-school clothes shopping for the kids. We’re only driving one car. We’re delaying putting grass in the backyard and I canceled my knee appointment for X-rays after the endless back-and-forth between our insurance company and the doctor’s office, neither of whom could give me a cost estimate. It’s best to wait until we’re in a better place financially to move forward.

Jamie and I were discussing our financial situation this week. This move has cost us thousands of dollars and both of our businesses are doing fine…it’s just the unexpected hits this summer like Hadley’s broken arm and our car problems that have landed us in the hole.

Back in December, I was doing the laundry and heard some clunking in the dryer, only to find Jamie’s iPhone 5s…NOT waterproof. Even though we didn’t really have the money, we sprung for an iPhone 7 and he has made some great use out of it for work.

Fast-forward to last weekend. Jamie has really wanted to see the war movie, Dunkirk. It’s not my choice for a memorable date night but when my friend Steph mentioned she and her husband were going as well, we decided to make a double-date out of it. We ate at Bam Bam’s BBQ prior, enjoyed the movie (well, at least Jamie did) and grabbed some ice cream after. We talked late into the night and one item we discussed were our cell phones. Steph and I had the exact same case, and we all chuckled at the various ways we’d cracked or damaged our phones. Except for Jamie. He was boastful that he doesn’t even have a case and his phones had survived unscathed all these years (he somehow didn’t count the drowning).

As we drove home later, I mentioned an upcoming event and asked for his phone to add it to his calendar. He couldn’t find it and the last time he’d handled it was in the theater when he turned it off. The theater was a half-hour away from our house but thankfully, we were only at the mouth of the canyon so turned around and began our search. Even though it had been less than an hour, the phone was gone. He left my number with the staff and we started praying for its recovery. Since replacing it is not an option, his plan was to replace the cracked screen on a REALLLLY old phone and call it good. 

The next day, Bode brought Jamie’s old iPhone 5s out of my office.

“Hey, Dad. What’s this?”

“That’s my old iPhone that went through the washing machine.”

“Really? It looks like it’s working.”

We never turned on the phone after its full wash, spin and dryer but somehow over the past several months, it somehow resurrected itself. A miracle!!!

We’re still hoping his iPhone 7 turns up but we’re thrilled to have a phone that works…an answer to prayers, just not the one we expected.

 

 

A Return to Colorado: The Broadmoor Edition

The perfect end to the perfect week in Colorado was three days of perfection at The Broadmor. And there’s no better way to kick off Said Perfection by dining in the 5-star Penrose Room after a grubby week of getting dirty in the backcountry. Fortunately, we clean up nicely.

I loooove Bode’s cultured conversation starters when he’s trying to act proper. Last time as he surveyed the menu, he observed “I hear the salad is quite good here” and this time, it was, “Sooooooo, taxes these days.”

Early the next morning, I went for my traditional solo hike up North Cheyenne Canon and raced back to get ready to The Broadmoor’s fabulous brunch.  Bananas foster. Shrimp diablo. Plum Calvados Crepes. We take our brunching very seriously and Hadley went into panic mode after round 3. “I don’t know what to get now….I feel so empty inside…oh wait, I’m rather full.” These are true First World Problems, people.

One of the highlights of visiting in the summer is renting a cabana by the pool and almost without fail, rain always interferes with our plans. Fortunately, we were able to soak it all in for 1.5 hours before calling it quits and taking a nap in our rooms. 

We are all obsessed with The Broadmoor but no one more than this guy. Every other restaurant or hotel pales in comparison as he sputters out “This would never happen at The Broadmoor,” which means 99.9 perent of his life is a disappointment. I found him napping like this in his luxurious robe that afternoon. At least 0.1 percent of his life is bliss.

That evening, we dined at our favorite restaurant, The Summit, followed by bowling at Play at The Broadmoor. I was worried how Hadley would do with her broken arm but she bowled her first strike ever, thereby proving that maybe having a handicap can actually be helpful. 

The next day, we had one of Colorado’s most epic experiences via the Pikes Peak Cog Reailway! I’ve climbed several 14,000-foot peaks but nothing can quite prepare you for arriving at the summit of 14,114-foot Pikes Peak via the world’s highest Cog Train and being greeted by an onslaught of out-of-shape tourists. If you can’t beat ‘em, you’d better believe we joined ‘em by eating fresh doughnuts and relishing the views from the summit.

Later that evening, 10 days of beautiful Colorado scenery overload was capped off by  Seven Falls and delicious dinner at The Broadmoor’s 1858 restaurant. As I looked across the table at these exhausted, happy people, my heart was so full. We may not always be at our best at home but when adventuring, we shine as our best selves. And it makes all those painful road trips when they were younger to see the avid travelers they have become.

Leaving The Broadmoor always feels like I’m leaving a part of me behind. As we pulled into our neighborhood after the long drive home Jamie observed, “Arvada no longer feels like home and Midway has yet to feel like home. The only place I feel at home is at The Broadmoor.”

We couldn’t agree with you more.

A Return to Colorado: The Jet Boat Edition

It has been almost a year since we moved from Colorado. In some ways, it has become much easier but in others I’m still mourning it like a death in the family. When other people move on (and feeling like you should, too), you’re still stuck in the past.  My Facebook memories are an almost daily reminder of my kids’ magical childhood and I miss those days when our summers were fueled entirely by adventure and imagination.

When Bode and I Hadley were invited to attend Keystone Science School (KSS), I knew we had a plan a Colorado vacation around it. We would spend a few days in Denver with friends, drop the kids off at camp, Jamie and I would enjoy alone-time in Keystone and Crested Butte and we’d all reunite at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

All was going to plan until Hadley broke her humerus  and we were in a predicament. She obviously couldn’t go to KSS because they were whitewater rafting, camping and horseback riding all week but if she came with Jamie and me, she’d be stuck in our condo because we had an equally active itinerary. Thankfully, Jamie’s sweet mom offered to take her despite the fact it was a very busy week as she helped her 90-year-old dad move into a care center. Thank goodness for Grandma!

Jet Boat Colorado

Bode, Jamie and I kicked off our Colorado adventure with Jet Boat Colorado. Actually, our adventure started well before we hit the water. Its location is in De Beque, a historic community nestled near the Roan Plateau. I calculated it was about the half-way mark of our drive from Midway to Denver but I should have Google mapped it because it was actually about 40 minutes past Grand Junction (the true half-way mark). I made this realization at about 1 hour before our 12 p.m. departure time and we were about 1.5 hours away.

Enter: Jamie “Mario Andretti” Johnson who put the pedal to the metal–driving at speeds up to 90 mph–and we miraculously arrived just a few minutes late.  Oh, and did I mention our gas was below empty and running on fumes? Another miracle: there was a gas station in De Beque, Colo.

I had never heard of jet boating until a friend went to New Zealand last year and posted a video of her 45 mph adventure through narrow canyons as their boat barely skirted the banks of the river. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to try it out myself until I learned Jet Boat Colorado offers Coloradoans the same adrenaline-charged adventure as our Kiwi counterparts on a slice of the Colorado River.

I don’t yet have any pictures of our experience because cameras were strongly discouraged (you’ll see why in this video). Lots and lots of water…and laughter.

I’ve driven through this part of Colorado many times and had written it off as a barren wasteland but was fascinated to learn De Beque’s rich old west history with ferry sites, homestead stories and fascinating geology. At one point, as he pointed out two eagles’ nests with Mama Eagle and her very large “baby” standing sentry, it was confirmed to me this was an experience like no other and quite the “Welcome Home” party for Colorado.

But it only got better….

 

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 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.

“WHERE’S THE MEAT, AMBER?” jokingly (but not) demanded my husband. “I SWEAR, IF MY MOTHER LIVED NEARBY I’D GO TO HER HOUSE FOR DINNER RIGHT NOW.”

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