Top 5 Reasons to Crash Your Sister-in-Law’s Ward Christmas Party

We had planned to drive to Utah last Saturday, the day after the kids got out of school for the holiday break. But there was a complication: Utah’s weather. They were getting slammed by snow storms and both routes through Colorado and Wyoming were risky. On Thursday, I worriedly watched the weather while Jamie was at a Christmas party and when he arrived home at 6:30 p.m., I told him our dilemma.

“So, let’s leave tomorrow (Friday) then,” he suggested.

I was shocked, then elated. I had hoped he’d say that but when you’re self-employed it’s tough to get away earlier. But then I panicked. I had to do all our packing and round up all our gifts in just a few hours?! Somehow we pulled it off and despite a few precarious stretches of road in Wyoming, we arrived in Utah in a very small window between two very big storms.

And how glorious our arrival was!

Sledding at Sugar House Park, Utah

Dear (brown) Denver: this is what a white Christmas looks like.

We stopped by Jamie’s sister Tammy’s house and she was exhausted after setting up her ward (congregation) Christmas party. Did someone say party? We just happened to be there early…and available. And so we did what any moochers would do: we invited ourselves.

The party we crashed was actually a Christmas breakfast. Here are the Top 5 Reasons to Crash Your Sister-in-Law’s Ward Christmas Party.

#5. Hot chocolate bar. All the food at the potluck breakfast was amazing–from bananas foster French toast casserole to Jamie’s sister’s delicious potato casserole with Gruyère cheese. But my favorite was the darling hot chocolate bar with delicious, high-quality cocoa, peppermint marshmallows, syrups, whipped cream and candies.

I tried to take a picture before the table got ravaged but darn people kept coming and coming and coming. Talk about moochers (it takes one to know one).

#4. Hanging out with our edible twin cousins.

At a recent Santa encounter, Berkley asked him for a goat.

“Why do you want a goat?”
“Because I don’t have one.” Duh.

#3. The glorious snow. The ground looked like a puffed pillow, icicles framed the backdrop of the Christmas party and we later built snow forts and appropriately went to see Frozen.

Tammy is a pro interior designer.  If Mother Nature hadn’t lended assistance for our winter wonderland, I’m sure Tammy would have pulled off something just as good.

#2. Anyone who knows me knows I love bringing out my pipe chimes to play “Jingle Bells” every Christmas. But I have a new obsession: COWBELLS. Since my LDS mission in Switzerland, I’ve loved cowbells and at every Olympic games I’ve attended, the Swiss are always there sounding their mellifluous rings. But I never knew they could be actual instruments.  A colorful German-loving character in Tammy’s ward regularly gives cowbell performances and with his professional sound system, that guy was amazing.

I later cornered him. Where did he get those genius cowbells? (Ernst Licht.) How did he learn how to do them? Did he perform on German Idol?

I’m very serious about saving my money to purchase a set ($600–awk!) Jamie knows I’m very serious but has been my husband long enough to know he can’t change my mind about something as important as cowbells.

Me: “Bode, when I purchase my cowbells, will you play them with me?”
Jamie: “Bode, don’t be a sheep.”
Me: “Technically he’d be a cow.”

#1. We sat with some of Tammy and Jeremy’s friends. Jamie’s mom also joined us and at one point, their buddy leaned over to Jamie and asked if he was Tammy’s dad.

After picking himself up off the floor, Jamie later pointed out this guy’s clothing.

“For someone wearing a Yale shirt, he’s not very smart.”


The mountain, the bear and the gun-toting Tennessean

Though I relish any time spent on The Broadmoor’s opulent grounds, I love escaping to North Cheyenne Cañon, a gorgeous red-rock, evergreen forest with scores of hiking trails.

Many of the trails start at the Starsmore Discovery Center, just over a mile from the resort so most of my explorations have been reserved for the gorgeous neighborhoods and Lower Columbine trail. But then, I learned The Broadmoor runs a complimentary shuttle to the discovery center, which would give me a jump-start on my desire to hike further up the canyon to the Upper Columbine Trail.

We had planned to spend an afternoon at the pool but when rain clouded our plans, I enrolled the kids in the resort’s children’s club, Bee Bunch, while Jamie booked a massage. That meant I had three glorious hours to explore!

But remember that rain? It would have deterred some but not me. I grabbed my waterproof gear and hopped on the shuttle. Within minutes, I was winding along the trail and ran into a family.

“Bear up there,” one of the woman casually commented as I hiked by.

“Umm, did she say there is a bear?”

Her traveling companion divulged there was, indeed, a brown bear directly off the trail about a half-hour ahead. “He didn’t bother us,” he assured me. Gee, swell to know.

I kept hiking and each subsequent hiker issued the same warning. By this point, I was starting to get paranoid. I was, after all, hiking by myself and I had just polished off The Broadmoor’s tasty 10,000-calorie brunch. I’d be some good eatin’ for a hungry bear in the rain. Plus, I’ve never run into a bear in Colorado’s backcountry.

As I was forging up the mountain, I was passed by a 30-something, fit tattooed hiker from Tennessee who was a bit rough around the edges but friendly. I informed him about the bear and he nonchalantly said, “I’m not worried. I’ve got a pistol in my backpack.”

Now, any other day such a confession would have steered me in another direction but it became one of Bode’s famous “would you rather” games: Would I rather hike by myself under threat of a bear OR hike with a gun-toting, tattooed Tennessean?

I opted for the latter and we quickly fell into a good clip up the mountain.

I may-or-may-not have snapped this picture as evidence in case my dead, lifeless body was found.

The trail was steep, the views stunned, the rain dripped, the sun persisted, the conversation entertained and it was one of those beloved hikes where  I felt powerful and never wanted it to end. When we reached the Upper Columbine trailer marker four miles later,  we parted ways as he continued going and I reluctantly headed back to pick up the kids.

View of The Broadmoor from the Upper Columbine Trail

The bear was long forgotten on my return trip but I had a new-found fondness for gun-toting Tennesseans. Just your average day in Colorado’s backcountry.




Like a Giant Pumpkin to the Slaughter: A Pumpkin Party to Remember

Last week was a blur as I chaperoned Hadley’s three-day camping trip and returned home to throw our annual pumpkin party the next day, followed by the chaotically fun giant pumpkin weigh-off.

Translation: I barely slept.

We always invite oodles of friends and setup the party in our backyard, which, between that and our neighbor’s lot where Jamie grows the pumpkin, there is plenty of room to roam. But this year, we had a further complication: lots of rain. We have a good-sized four-bedroom house but it is certainly not big enough to comfortably house 60+ people but that’s exactly what we did.

That was only the tip of our muddy iceberg that night.

I expected people to un-RSVP due to the inclement weather and, if we’re being honest here, I kind of hoped they would so we would have a more manageable crowd. But we have wonderful, supportive friends (yeah!) and a deluge of them waited until the very last minute to say they were coming (not yeah!)

The motivator was probably my Facebook post that announced the party was still on despite the rain with the promise of mud wrestling in the pumpkin patch.

We told our friends to dress for the weather and that they did. Though Meredith went a wee bit overboard with her dorky umbrellas.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Admission to the pumpkin party is your favorite pumpkin dish and we had two tables full of pumpkin rolls, pies, cookies, pumpkin seed guacamole, cinnamon rolls, cakes, dips, pumpkin-spiced hot chocolate and so much  more. I made two new treats that will become permanent fixtures–pumpkin magic cookie bars and pumpkin oatmeal bars (recipes forthcoming). It was one of my favorite spreads ever.

And I’m not just talking about the middle-aged spread I had after sampling them all.

Usually when it’s time to cut the pumpkin off the vine, everyone races out to the pumpkin patch but we had three kinds of people.

1) The “been there, done that” types who opted to stay inside.

Note: My unsupportive children were numbered among them. The Pumpkin Man may disown them for this major trespass.

2) The “I’m intrigued but I don’t want to get wet” types. These people crammed inside near the back door and the more interested sorts stood on the deck so they were able to dash back indoors if they got too soaked.

3) The “I’m all in” types.

These hearty  souls were rewarded with quite the show and major complications surfaced because:

1) It was raining. In case you’d forgotten that.

2) It was muddy.

3) Stanley the Pumpkin weighs several hundred pounds more than Jamie’s previous gourds.

Usually, Jamie and a few of his buddies adjust lifting straps around the pumpkin, they attach it to the forklift and the machine very carefully lifts it off its bed of sand onto the flatbed trailer while the crowd cheers.

But this year, there was muck everywhere so the backhoe could not get enough traction to lift the pumpkin out of the patch. After several failed attempts (and a backhoe that literally almost tipped over from the weight of the pumpkin), Jamie and his pit crew changed strategies. They  knocked down one of the poles supporting the hail netting so the backhoe could go in at another angle.

As we watched the drama unfold, one of our drenched-to-the-bone neighbor’s daughters raved to me, “This is your greatest pumpkin party yet! The rain! The mud! And they might not even get the pumpkin out of there!”

She sure has a differ view of greatness.

After what seemed like an eternity, the deed was done. Jamie and his buddies looked like the Swamp Things as they emerged from the patch and I was horrified when I saw one of them had blood all over his face.

“What happened?”

“I’m not sure. I was trying to push the backhoe when it got stuck and I got bloodied up.”

It was the Great Pumpkin’s first sacrificial lamb. But I’m sure it will not be the last.

Be sure to read the details of the weigh-off and the Great Pumpkin’s final weight!

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.

Summer hiking group fun and why Bode can stay in his BOY corner

One of my favorite things in the entire world is exploring and discovering trails, particularly in my own backyard. So imagine how thrilled I was to recently stumble upon some new-to-me sites intermingled with my long-time favorites.

The Hike

My church friend Dawn organized a summer hiking group on Tuesday mornings. Early-June, Dawn decreed our first hike would be the Castle Trail at Mount Falcon Open Space, which is is a great, moderate trail for younger kiddos.

One of my favorite memories is when I was REALLY pregnant with Bode, we decided to go for a hike and picnic. We were only a few minutes into our hike when our little 2-year-old cherub decided she was not walking another step. And when stubborn miss doesn’t want to do something, she will not do it. Nice parents that we are, we didn’t give in to her meltdown and so she threw herself onto the middle of the trail and raged for about 10 minutes.

We walked a safe distance away. No, we were not worried about her safety (because who would take her in that condition?) but rather, ours. We pointedly ignored the other parents who judged us while we let her scream it out. If she’d been in a store, it would have been another matter but since we were in the great outdoors, we let her roar with the mountain lions. It ended up working. She eventually gave up, jumped up, dusted herself off and kept on walking. She was a delight the rest of the day.

Here Hadley is seven years later at the scene of the crime. Doesn’t she look so much more docile?

We’ll compare notes again at this spot during the hormonal teenage  years.

The Castle/Meadow Trail had all the makings for a perfect outing: a wide trail, beautiful wildflower-strewn meadow and rocks for climbing. The boys reenacted being chased by Orcs in Lord of the Rings while I tried not to take offense of being mistaken for a sallow-skinned, fanged humanoid.

Our final destination was the stone-wall remnants of the John Brisben Walker family castle that boasts stunning views of Denver. Though the ruins are fenced off for climbing, we were fully engaged as we read about his rags-to-riches story that included the fire that destroyed this early-1900s dream home.

Parmalee Gulch

The easiest route to Mount Falcon is via U.S. Highway 285. Take the Indian Hills turn-off and follow the open space signs up Parmalee Gulch Road. On our return trip, my kids and I were stopped in our tracks at a stunning property just outside of Mount Falcon with a white fence that stretched as far as the eye could see. When we saw the “For Sale” sign, we pulled in.

Because we just happen to be in the market for a multi-million-dollar property.

As we dreamed of having a mountain retreat, we eventually wound back down to a new-to-us part of Parmalee Gulch Road, happening upon a fantastic playground within Parmalee’s town limits. “We HAVE to stop!” my son announced and I agreed.

For the next hour, we scaled logs, climbed rock walls to the top of the slide and climbed on bears at this awesome playground.

Turned out I wasn’t too good at the latter, which is probably a good thing.

Bear Creek Canyon

I frequent Bear Creek Canyon regularly when en route from Denver/Morrison to Evergreen. After driving down the canyon,  we landed in the funky mountain town of Morrison, devoured sundaes at The Blue Cow, threw rocks in Bear Creek and I then told the kids we were crossing the street to visit two shops I’ve driven past a hundred times but have never set foot.

Both were love at first sight: Sundance Sensations appealed to my Bohemian side while La Boutique des Bourdreux was a whimsical, vintage gift and clothing shop where Hadley and I were enthralled at every turn and could have spent an hour in there.

If it wasn’t for Bode.

As every minute passed, he grew increasingly inpatient. When Hadley and I started trying on the large selection of hats, I cooed, “Hadley, I want this hat.”

Bode interjected. “Mommy, WANTS ARE NOT NEEDS.”

It would seem he’s been taking lessons from his father on more than just pumpkins.

How you know you have hockey-loving Canadian parents

The kids and I are spending the next few weeks in Canada with my family.

Something always cracks me up when I go into my parent’s bedroom. I first discovered it last summer when I was hanging out on their bed. From across the room on my dad’s dresser, I saw a picture of me with a guy. At first, I thought it was Jamie but quickly dismissed that when I saw his sandy-blonde hair. I did a mental checklist of my ex-boyfriends and tried to figure out who on earth I was with.

Upon close-up investigation, I laughed out loud when I realized it was not my beloved husband but rather, a picture of me with The Great One, Wayne Gretzky (whom I met–and insulted–when I was at the 2010 Vancouver Games for Microsoft Office).

Even Jamie says he can’t compete with that.