And the winner is….

…not Jamie.

With all of our landscaping, this has been a lackluster year for growing pumpkins but Jamie’s pumpkin “Uncle Sam,” was measuring to weigh 800 pounds. In pumpkin circles, this is just an estimate and pumpkins can drastically swing either way when they “go light” or “go heavy;” obviously the latter is the more desirable.

Uncle Sam went really light at 706 pounds and we took fifth place.

It’s one of Jamie’s lightest pumpkins ever but my gosh, can we take a moment and reflect this? He grew a gourd that weighs several hundred pounds!

The largest of the two weigh-offs was a couple of weeks ago at Thanksgiving Point but Hee Haw Farms puts on a great show last weekend as well. It’s too bad my kids have aged out of activities like petting zoos and silo slides because this farm has a lot of fall fun.

This year, my college bestie Lori got addicted to giant pumpkin growing. In fact, as the story goes, she was texting Jamie so much for pumpkin advice this summer that she sent him a message, “Hey, tell Amber I’m going to become a grandma tomorrow” and that is when I put a kibosh on her texting him more than ME. :-)

We had a great time hanging out and her family and her “Cinderella” pumpkin weighed in at 579 pounds. Pretty impressive for a first-timer.

But really, the most impressive of all was that we were big-time winners at the pumpkin drop. We’ve seen them before. Raise pumpkin high above the earth in a crane, watch it drop and spew pumpkin guts everywhere, sometimes even hitting you. But this year, FM 100.3 did something fun: they numbered several ping pong balls, put them in the pumpkin and after the pumpkin was dropped, you race over and if you find a ball with a number, you can claim a prize.

I saw a lot of their swag and wasn’t too interested until someone mentioned they were giving away a trip. Say what?

They kids did it first. Hadley emerged quickly with a numbered ping-pong ball.

“How many kids did you to knock out of the way to get that?” I asked.

“Only a few,” she sheepishly responded. Do I know my girl or what?

Bode came back with a bunch of balls but no number…but a nice girl gave him one of hers.

And what did they win? Bode won a baseball cap and Hadley walked away with a $25 gift card to Dave & Busters.

Then it was the adult division. Jamie was no where to be found so I was on my own. With my crap knee, I didn’t have speed on my side to repositioned myself to the area closest to where the pumpkin dropped, turned my back away when it landed in case a projectile came hurling at me and like a race horse at the starting gate, anticipated the exact moment they said “go,” (OK, maybe I cheated and went a few seconds early). But the adrenaline was pumping and I was in my competitive element.

Bode gave me a sound strategy to skip all the outlier guts and balls and go straight to the middle. It was sound advice. I immediately spotted two numbered ping-ball balls, snagged them and raced over to claim victory: VIP passes to Fear Factory’s house of horrors that Hadley elatedly snatched up and my other prize was a backpack with headphones, a shirt and mug that Bode quickly claimed. Talk about a win!

But back to the pumpkins. While we were waiting for Jamie’s to be weighed, I asked him:

“Hey Jamie, what are the weights of the pumpkins you’ve grown?”

He proceeds to recite every single one.

“Hey Jamie, how much did your children weigh when they were born?

Blank stare.

My work here is done. Or just beginning.


The 11th Annual Pumpkin Party

Have we really been doing this for 11 years?

It has been a lackluster growing season for Jamie so I haven’t posted too many updates. He and Bode both lost their plants a couple of months ago so that left one still standing. With all of our backbreaking work landscaping our yard, Jamie didn’t really dedicate a lot of time to his craft (if I ever move again, I will make sure to had an irrigation budget built in because it’s a nightmare). Plus, he has been working a lot on building his greenhouse and it is still not completed.

The good news is after two years of living here, we FINALLY have grass, as opposed to dirt and mud for last year’s soiree. There is still a lot of work to be done in the yard but baby steps, friends.

There are two pumpkin weigh-offs in Utah and since Jamie was down to only one plant, he wanted to participate in the latter weight-off to give him an extra two weeks to grow.

I wasn’t very thrilled about doing the party two weeks later than usual because fall (and particularly October) can have finicky weather. The entire week leading up to the party was rainy and cold with snow in the mountains. Luckily for Jamie, the day of the party was a brisk and beautiful 60 degrees…but still super chilly at night.

We introduced a few new things to the festivities. I have asked Jamie to build me a firepit FOR YEARS. Heck, one Mother’s Day I even bought a cheap grill and asked him to build me a stone pit around it and he still didn’t do it. Well, that day has finally come and dare I say the firepit was one of the most popular items at the party? Equally as awesome is I asked Jamie’s insanely talented sister Tammy to do a s’mores bar and she delivered in her delightfully over-the-top way.


Of course, the pumpkin potluck was in full force. The Utah people are slowly catching on to this and there was a delicious array of pumpkin/treats but I’m still missing all of the uber creative pumpkin concoctions our Colorado friends would make. I also added two Crockpots of soup to the mix and we still ran out. Better luck next year!

As for the main event, our friend Aaron drove the forklift and there was a new level of difficulty added to the pumpkin removal…the door to the greenhouse wasn’t tall enough. So, after all of the pomp and circumstance of the vine cutting, adjusting the lifting straps around the pumpkin, lifting and starting to remove it, they had to put the pumpkin back in its place and adjust the lifting straps to be shorter so they could remove it from the greenhouse.

By that time, everyone had moved on to the food. Because you only get one chance to remove the pumpkin from the patch.

Another new element was pumpkin smashing. As aforementioned, Jamie and Bode lost their other plants early in the season. What I didn’t mention is they didn’t bother to do the upkeep on the patch after that so guess who got to remove all of the knee-high weeds a couple of weeks ago? YOURS TRULY, the one person who doesn’t even grow. And because the boys didn’t tend to their patch, there were a lot of little pumpkins growing off the vines that were now rotting. I threw many of the smaller ones over the fence for the deer to eat but I wouldn’t touch the larger decaying ones.

The day before the party, Jamie had an idea. Either he could break those pumpkins down and chuck them OR we could have pumpkin pinatas and let the kids go crazy with a baseball bat. What could be more glorious that rotting pumpkin guts spewing everywhere?

It was a hit. And fortunately no one got hit with a baseball bat.

I wasn’t informed they had started but noticed a small group of kids forming around those pumpkins.

“It there an adult supervising?” I asked.

I was assured there was.

“Is there a FEMALE adult supervising?” I followed-up because, as we all know, sometimes men aren’t the most cautious in these instances.

The kids were able to pulverize the small pumpkins but couldn’t even put a dent in the larger one.

Better luck next year and I definitely think pumpkin smashing, gourmet s’mores and the firepit will be welcome new additions to next year’s festivities

And now, off to the weigh-off!

Stanley B. Visits Utah!

On October 8, we celebrated our 1-year anniversary for moving into our house. It was also Canadian Thanksgiving so nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving/1-Year Housewarming quite like our favorite dish from our local Mexican restaurant: The mighty Molcajete.

My mom is no longer able to travel and my dad has been her full-time caregiver for quite some time. My brother Jade, his boys and his new bride moved back home while Jade looks for a job so there was a small window of opportunity for Dad to come visit. My sister-in-law Jane helped in the evenings after work and I’m super grateful to everyone who pitched in because we had a really wonderful visit. My dad spends so much of his life taking care of everyone else so it was nice to give him a break.

The great thing about my dad is he’s super low-maintenance and we both love the outdoors so he was easily entertained. The colors were peaking in the mountains so he witnessed some serious fall splendor.

Day 1

Arrival, tour of Midway and drive up Memorial Hill.

Day 2

The weather forecast was iffy for the first several days so when we saw a window of opportunity, we took it to bike Provo Canyon Parkway to Bridal Veil Falls. Some of my favorite memories with Dad are of biking Calgary’s extensive network of bike paths so it was fun to share with him one of mine. That night, he treated us to dinner at Tucanos Brazilian Grill in Orem. 


Day 3

The Pumpkin Party!!!!!!!!!!

Day 4

The pumpkin weigh-off. Jamie took us to dinner at Tarahumara Mexican Restaurant to celebrate. And yes, that’s a giant pear. Pumpkins aren’t the only things that can be grown BIG!

Day 5

Church and SNOW?! This put a damper on our plans to see the Kokanee salmon run that afternoon but believe me when I say it worked out for the best.

Day 6

This was my favorite day! Due to our weather delay, we decided to drive up to Strawberry Reservoir on Monday to catch a glimpse of the Kokanee salmon run. If we had gone at any other time, we would have seen some of the salmon in the Strawberry River next to the visitor center (pretty cool) but because we went at this exact time, we got an in-depth look at the process in the Catch House (really cool).

There are only two mornings open for the public to access their fish trap station and it was FASCINATING to see the hundreds of bright red fish. We piggy-backed on an elementary school’s tour and listened as DWR biologists talked about the peculiar life cycle of the fish and how the Kokanee usually spawn when they are four years old and die quickly thereafter. As the fish instinctively swim up the river, they are caught in the trapping station and the male and females are separated until they’re ready to spawn. Since the females are going to die anyway, they are cut open and the eggs are squeezed out. They then take the males and squeeze the milt out of their bellies and fertilize the eggs.  In the wild, the average female has 1,200 eggs but only two survive in the wild. Through this process, there is a 98 percent survival rate that helps guarantee the survival species in Strawberry Reservoir.


One of Dad’s must-do activities was a leisurely soak in the Homestead Carter, a geothermal spring hidden in a 55-foot tall beehive-shaped limestone rock formation so the kids joined us after school.

To top off the day, we participated in the final Monday Midway Cruiser Cruise of the season. Every Monday night May through September, people in our quirky town gather for a casual bike ride on the beautiful country roads. For the final ride of the season, organizers christened it “The Bike Prom” and it was so fun to see all the awesome costumes. Jamie called me a flamingo but Hadley’s friend Zoe said I looked like a 1980s princess with this ugly outfit I found at the local thrift store.

Day 7

For Dad’s final full day, we did the Park City tour! We drove up Guardsman Pass with the oaks and maples positively on fire, cutting over to Park City where we strolled along the Poison Creek Trail past Shoe Tree Park and cutting over to historic Main Street. We had a late lunch at Cafe Zupas before heading back to Midway.

I love love love showing off our beautiful cut of paradise and I’m so grateful my dad was able to catch a glimpse.


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:

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!


The Marriage Ref remembered

My Facebook memory for today: That time when NBC’s promos hit for the Marriage Ref.

A family that speaks together, stresses together

Last Sunday, we were asked to speak in church on the talks of our choice from the 2016 General Conference. In my past congregations, children 12 and older give talks in Sacrament Meeting in front of the entire congregation so Hadley was expecting to give her first talk in our new ward. What surprised us is that younger children are also called upon to speak so our entire family shared our testimony on Sunday.

The crazy thing is Facebook’s timehop memory of the day was from six years ago when the kids participated in the Arvada 2nd Ward’s Primary Program. This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of them:

What a difference six years makes!

Bode based his talk on President Monson’s talk The Perfect Path to Happiness. Bode was so cute as he joked around while the microphone was being lowered lowered lowered and did an awesome job sharing our his personal path to happiness. My favorite lines from his talk:

I was baptized when I was 8 because I wanted to follow Jesus’ example. As I stepped into the font, I felt peaceful. When I was underneath the water, I felt like nothing could hurt me.

A few minutes later, my dad put his hands upon my head. When he said “Receive the Holy Ghost,” my head felt like it was lit up with fireworks. I felt the spirit charging through my head and body!

I’ve just started on this Perfect Path to Happiness but I know that no matter how old you are—if you’re 10 like me or 90 that you can feel the spirit. And that God knows who you are and that you are an important part of His plan.

I was really proud of Hadley because she wrote her own talk. She based her remarks on Elder Juan Useda’s harrowing experience at Machu Picchu in The Lord Jesus Christ Teaches Us to Pray. 

 Unfortunately, I realized that recently I have a very similar experience to Elder Useda. A few months ago my parents decided I should go to both this wards girls camp and my previous wards girls camp. I moved here from Denver and it happened to be high adventure week. We did a whole lot of really cool things but the big one that was really shaking every one up was the fourteener we had to climb. Colorado has 54 peaks higher than 14,000 feet—pretty amazing! To put this in perspective, Utah’s highest mountain is King’s Peak and is around 13,500 feet. The leaders did a very good job with making it high adventure!

 This was the second fourteener I had climbed and I was with the faster group so I summited fairly quickly, and was in the very first group to come down. At the steepest and most dangerous part of the trail it started to hail. A lot of the people with us were crying and really scared! I didn’t have the proper gear for hail so I used my friend’s bandana for protection—that didn’t work so well. After a few minutes of wondering if I was going to die my thoughts tuned to the slower group, and realized that they were at the very summit of the mountain. I said a prayer in my heart afraid that if I took my hands down from my head that I would get hurt, but after only a few minutes the hail lessened.

Once everyone got back to the car, their side of the story was that they were literally in the cloud getting pounded by the hail and electrocuted by the shocks. Screaming and crying someone suggested they say a prayer. Not too long after that a group of experienced hikers helped them get to a safe spot until the hail stopped. It makes me wonder what would have happened if no one prayed!?

I’d like to share my testimony that I know that prayer can help us through big and small things in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

I based my talk on Elder Schmutz’s General Conference talk “God shall wipe away your tears,” a super powerful talk for anyone who has ever wondered why bad things happen to good people and why we have to go through hardships in our lives. I spoke about some of the struggles we had the last 10 months during our move and some of the miracles along the way (which is another post for another day).

The kids and I wrote our talks shortly after receiving the assignment. The Master Procrastinator a.k.a. Jamie waited until the morning of church to start pulling his talk together. As he walked into the bedroom, I asked him how to pronounce “Schmutz,” to which he held up MY topic. 

“You can’t steal my talk!” and I proceeded to go through his papers, crossing out everything I was planning to talk about.

Procrastinators never prosper…or do they? He ended doing an amazing job winging it, talking about some of his miracles in our move as well as giant pumpkins. because (in his words) is God not the Master Gardener?

At least there is full disclosure of our craziness in our new ward.

How we do Halloween

Halloween was a blast in Denver. Pumpkin patches. Pumpkin parties. Weigh-offs. Truck-or-Treats. Neighborhood fire station party and parade. And, of course, trick-or-treating.

I asked my friend Andrea what people do in Midway for fun on Halloween and it seems comparatively low-key. She asked what our family does for fun.

This is my answer:

There goes the neighborhood.