Monday, February 26, 2024

The Clark Griswold Vacation Package

Well, I thought you’d like to hear about our anniversary trip. I bet you assumed I’d be armed with pictures of the sunlight beaming down on wooded trails and group selfies in front of waterfalls. Normally, I would, but this trip, such as it was, is worthy of mention in the annals of vacation disasters. The Clark Griswold vacation package. If nothing else, writing about it will be good therapy for me- which is what Motherhood and Muffin Tops has really been about for the entire month of February, it seems. Can we please just turn the calendar page over already? 

Davis, Ruby, and I left on Wednesday headed to Chattanooga armed with our VRBO reservation confirmation. The kids would be leaving on Thursday to come and join us for a long weekend of enjoying the outdoors with our dogs. It was anticipated to be an emotional reset as well as our anniversary celebration. We’d secured a large, pet-friendly house with 4 bedrooms near the river walk and were excited to spend a few days away with our kids. 

No one loves a road trip more than Ruby Miller. She had to sit the last few out and be 
Otis’s security blanket at the kennel, but she wasn’t missing this one.

This wasn’t our first rodeo. Through the years, we’ve rented most of our vacation housing through VRBO and have never had anything but wonderful experiences. Communication with the owners is always different. It’s just according to how each one prefers to handle their business. Each owner we’ve dealt with has had their own level of personal correspondence with us, so I didn’t think much about the fact that we hadn’t heard anything from this owner since confirmation in January. Sometimes, we’ve gotten an email the day before our trip wishing us safe travels and a heads up that access information would be sent the next day. I just assumed this renter wasn’t into all that fluff and I was confident we’d receive the access information after the cleaning service finished on check-in day, which is usually when we get door codes or lock box instructions. 

About 3 hours before check-in, I started getting a little nervous. We were halfway to Chattanooga and still no word. I used the messaging system on the VRBO website to reach out for the information we’d need to get into the property. I sent another one, a while later. And another one. No response. I thought maybe they just weren’t checking their inbox and I’d try calling the owner’s phone. By now, we were less than an hour away. No answer. It was time to get VRBO involved. 

So, I started with the live chat option. I initiated a chat and Princess responded. I typed out my issue to her. She quickly replied that she would try to contact the owners using the numbers she had on file and asked me to hold. Princess was gone for a while and finally came back and said she couldn’t reach the homeowners either, but she would continue to try. It was now check-in time and no one could reach them. Princess realized we had a situation on our hands that required more assistance than she could offer. She sent me over to chat with Cardina. Cardina quickly tossed me like a hot potato and gave me a phone number to call with my problem. But, before I made the call, we drove by the property to see what we could see. There sat a vehicle with a Kentucky license plate in the driveway. We started suspecting they’d double-booked and were intentionally avoiding us when they realized it. 

Ruby was in the backseat needing a bathroom break and a walk, so we drove to a nearby Wendy’s to let her use their facilities- aka the grass surrounding their parking lot. While they’re walking around the parking lot, I placed my first call to the number given to me. Mohamed answered. I could tell right away Mohamed and I weren’t from the same neck of the woods. We weren't even from the same woods and I found myself saying, “Pardon?” Repeatedly. “May I have your name and email address? Ok, the property you are calling about is in Chattanooga, USA? Could you tell me the issue I can help you with today?” I explained my problem from the beginning. After 13 minutes, Mohamed saw that we were having trouble communicating and said he would transfer me to another agent who could help me with this problem. 

I was connected to Christina. I could tell that Christina was also not from these parts as she sounded French or something. We were getting closer though. In her heavy accent, she said, “May I have your name and email address? Ok, I see here you are set to check into a property in Chattanooga in the United States. And what is the issue you are having today, Joni?” At this point, I calmly and thoroughly started over at the beginning and explained what had happened to this point. In her broken English, Christina acknowledged this was a frustrating situation and that she would help me find a solution. She began talking about finding somewhere else for us to go for the night courtesy of VRBO and we started discussing dog-friendly hotels. They offered us two free nights. I explained that a hotel was a good solution for one night, but we had 4 more adults and 2 more dogs joining us the next day and a hotel wouldn’t be a good option after that. We were making real headway- even with her Frenchy English and my Mississippi English- we were gaining ground. “Please, hold on the line while I check on some hotels for you.” I hold while the most unsettling music blares in my ear. No matter who I’d talked to, they all had the same stress-spiking tune for my listening pleasure. It was like someone was playing mariachi on a synthesizer in double time. Not what I would’ve chosen for the waiting music for people experiencing problems. Suddenly, the music stopped. I heard a click and then silence. We’d been disconnected…..or, at least, I like to think so and she didn’t just hang up on me. I waited for her to call back but she only sent an email telling me her call back wouldn’t go through. After 29 minutes of talking with Christina and finally getting somewhere, I’d have to start again. 

I called the number. “This is Juan, how can I help you?”  I thought- Juan- ok this is a continent I’ve not talked to yet. I explained that Christina was helping me and we got disconnected. Juan informed me that there was no way I could be reconnected with Christina. I thought surely Christina’s notes will be in the system- I mean- don’t you, people, have a way of exchanging information with each other? That’s when he said, “May I have your email address? Can you confirm your name? Is the property in Chattanooga, United States? By now, I was getting a real international assortment of Chattanooga pronunciations and, so far, they were all incorrect. “Could you describe the problem you are having?” I realize I have to start at the very beginning. All the way through it again. Like I’d never spoken to anyone in the entire company until Juan. My patience had worn thin at this point and I probably spoke to Juan in a harsher manner than my southern upbringing would usually allow, but the sun was starting to set in the west, Ruby had commenced whining for her supper, and we had nowhere to put our heads. I do appreciate Juan’s quick surrender. No need to delay the inevitable. In just 19 minutes, Juan decided he needed to give me another number to call. 

Nicholas answered next. I heard his name and got excited that maybe we, at least, lived on the same continent, but I’m not sure VRBO has any customer representatives that reside in North America. Soon it became clear that we, indeed, did not live in the same geographical region, but we were communicating pretty well. I told Nicholas that I had live-chatted with Princess who bounced me over to Cardina who told me to call Mohamed who switched me over to Christina who dropped the call and sent me to Juan who had handed me over to him.“Could I have your name and email address, please? The property is in Chattanooga, USA?” Oh, geez. After 1 hour and 36 minutes of being on the line with Nicholas, he finally secured a downtown hotel room for Davis, Ruby, and me and we headed in that direction in the darkness that had set in over Chattanooga, USA as they call it. Nicholas seemed more like St. Nicholas at that moment. We would not be sleeping in the car and that was the bright side. 

This story has many layers- not unlike an onion. Also likened to an onion in that parts of it brought me to tears, so I’ll understand if you lose interest before we go down any deeper and you decide to vacuum or clip your toenails instead. For those who may be using this to combat insomnia or strengthen their attention span, here goes the rest. 

So, VRBO put us up in a huge hotel room downtown. They asked us at the front desk if we’d like a ping pong table in our room. There went that word again, “Pardon?” We didn’t realize it was an industrial loft and approximately 1,800 square feet with 2 bathrooms. The only problem was that it was in the very center of downtown. Ruby’s options for the bathroom were a couple of 3x5’ green spaces in the sidewalk around the hotel. Ruby is from the country and she sniffed those 15 square foot options and found not one of them to be an acceptable place to conduct business. Apparently, they didn’t smell just right. The elevator ride down, the cars whizzing by, the police sirens- they only added to her performance anxiety. Davis would take her down to try every hour but she wasn’t having any part of it. Country dog had come to town and it wasn’t suiting her. 

First elevator ride. Not a fan


Nope, not going there or there…. or there. I’ll just wait ‘til we get home. 

Ruby getting LOTS of love on the streets around the hotel. 
Is she a mix? Oh- in the biggest way. 

Before we went to bed, I sent out a group text to Blair, John Samuel, Carson, and his girlfriend, Anna Kathryn. It just explained what had happened and that we’d be finding another home to rent and would send the new address as soon as we could. I’d asked Juan in our 13 minutes conversation if we could go ahead and make a reservation for another property, because we had people joining us and didn’t feel comfortable not having one secured. He strongly advised me not to do that because VRBO gives the owner 24 hours to respond before cancelling the agreement and I’d be on the hook for both. They said we could make a reservation the next morning after the cancellation had been approved. This could have been part of the reason I spoke more harshly to poor Juan. “Oh, it will be approved, Juan,” I assured him. 

So, on Thursday morning, we woke up ready to make our plan B. While Davis was taking Ruby down to the street- practically begging her to relieve herself at this point- I grabbed my phone to find a rental. That’s when I saw we had no cell service. Our phones were on SOS mode. We tried communicating with the kids using wi-fi but only Anna Kathryn replied. Blair and John Samuel were already on their way so they couldn’t receive texts unless they stopped for a wi-fi signal. The news was talking about a widespread event and we didn’t know if it would last 2 hours or 2 weeks. It was check out time. Ruby had been holding it since Wendy’s- a bathroom strike of sorts. We were about to leave any cell service we had behind at checkout. VRBO hadn’t confirmed our cancellation. We had no new reservation. GPS was down without wi-fi and complicated finding things. Four kids were coming our way in three cars at different times and only one had cell service. We surrendered. Tapped out. Waved the white flag. We sent out another text telling the kids not to come to Chattanooga, USA but they were welcome to meet us at our house and we’d treat them to a fun weekend. We could only hope they’d get the word when they stopped for lunch or gas. 

Last layer. We got out of the city and stopped at a McDonald’s in a more sedate suburb. We hoped Ruby could finally let go and let it all out while we checked our messages in the parking lot using their signal. Ruby found their grounds to be more to her satisfaction and, after 15 hours of holding it, she relieved herself for quite a long while. (It’s obvious she never had puppies.) It was at McDonald’s that we got the message from Blair and John Samuel that they were turning around and going home. They’d just gotten an email from their Alabama fertility clinic saying they were suspending their operations until further notice as a result of the recent court ruling that has been widely publicized. You can read about that if you haven’t heard. Just the day before, they’d been told everything was still operating as usual, but things were changing by the hour. Two hours into their trip with no phone service, they decided they had to turn around and go to the clinic in person to see what was happening. With so much invested, they had to do that for their peace of mind. They were tapping out of our fabulous, fun, family fiasco. 

So you’ll know how to continue your prayers for them, they were able to get a face to face appointment with the office staff on Friday. As of now, only the February and March transplants are cancelled. No clinic wants the liability that could come with this ruling. They were told that they expect this to be resolved quickly as Governor Kay Ivey is working to help find a quick solution for IVF patients. The irony is that the ruling is hurting those who want absolutely nothing more than to give those little embryos life. Those who’ve given unbelievable sums of money, sacrificed emotionally, and suffered physically- just for a chance to celebrate the birth of a child. As of now, their appointment to transfer their one little miracle embryo is still April 2. Pray there is some kind of solution that is life-honoring and doesn’t take away these pro-life patients’ chances to have their own babies. Everyone involved seems hopeful. 

So, 18 hours after we arrived in Chattanooga, we were leaving it. It seems like we spent half of those 18 hours in the Wendy’s parking lot and Ruby held it for 15 of them. We received a full refund from VRBO and the property owner has been removed from their service. As we drove off with Chattanooga in the rear view, Ruby looked up toward the front of the car like- I thought I remembered vacations being more fun. You, people, have lost your touch. Don’t do me any more favors by bringing me along. 

So, with Blair and John Samuel eliminated from the survival challenge, Carson and Anna Kathryn let us know that they were still in the game. They met us at our house in time for dinner and we started planning some things we could do around town on our staycation. We did some fine dining. Showed Anna Kathryn a few sights around town. Visited the rooftop of a local hotel. Toured a guitar exhibit at our local Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Museum. Watched Bulldog baseball. Ate at our favorite Italian restaurant. Worked on Otis’s grave and put out his marker that arrived. We went to our land in the country, rode the ATV, and cooked dinner over a fire. Church and lunch with a family friend. It wasn’t anything like what we had planned, but it was a beautiful weekend and so fun to have a 3 day double date with Carson and Anna Kathryn. 




Y’all have a great week! Let me know if I can help you with your travel plans. 

JONI 







Tuesday, February 20, 2024

A Wedding Story

February continues as the month of anniversaries. This week, Davis and I will celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. Thirty-three years ago, we went out on our first date on Valentine’s Day. Thirty-two years ago from this Thursday, guests arrived at our 2:00 wedding at the church I’d gone to all of my life. The 55 year old me now realizes a 2:00 wedding messes up the whole day for everybody, so that’s on me if you were there. The piano and organ were playing wedding numbers like “Clair de Lune” and Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor- the classics by all the greats. The male guests donned their suits, ties, and tasseled loafers while the women had wrangled themselves into pantyhose, high heels, and wide belts that were cinched around their waists. I’d even venture to say there’d been some beauty shop appointments on the previous day. Banked by our closest friends and beautiful flowers, Davis and I promised to stick it out through thick and thin in front of God and the crowd gathered there. There were teary mothers with big corsages and daddies dressed in uncomfortably tight collars and shiny shoes. At 105 pounds soaking wet, I’d selected a form fitting satin number with lots of beadwork, a bow just above my rear, and a detachable train. Davis sported his traditional black tux and his large round glasses were at the height of eyewear fashion of the time. The minister recited the love chapter. Someone sang “The Lord’s Prayer.” We kissed and were introduced. Everyone clapped and we walked out of there. 

In the 90’s, where else would you have your reception besides downstairs in the fellowship hall? Finger foods of every description and layers of cake awaited the mid-afternoon crowd- hungry after an afternoon of nuptial spectating. Gallons of chilled punch were sitting on ready with an ice ring of some description floating at the top of the silver bowl. Guests juggled plates and cups while nibbling, sipping, and working the room- one of those skills learned from years of Baptist fellowship hall experience. The piano player had shifted to lighter, livelier tunes to set the tone for the reception. Gifts accumulated on a table in the corner- most likely Lenox Solitaire china, cobalt blue Fiestaware, and jewel tone towels- all so 90’s. We all moved outside, after a while, where we threw the bouquet and garter into the air for our friends to fight over, ran through a hailstorm of rice, and loaded into a white limo to head out to our new life together. 

The wedding is the easiest part of getting married and then you have to go home and try to figure out how to come together on thermostat settings, mattress firmness, dishwasher-loading techniques, and toilet seat etiquette. Not to mention who sleeps on which side of the bed, where you’ll spend holidays, and what to name the children. Add in the expectations we all bring from our growing-up home life experiences plus all those things you had no idea about like how terribly loud he breathes when he sleeps and you’ve got a lot to hammer out between you. That two becoming one thing can be a booger when very different people are trying to figure out how to merge. 

Marriage also goes through different seasons. There were those newlywed years when we spoiled each other. With just the two of us to consider, we exchanged extravagant gifts at Christmas, traveled, and enjoyed a lot of time together. The kids came and I stayed home with them, so we trimmed all the fat off the budget and made it work. With two children, we’d pass each other coming and going as they kept us busy….not to mention working to pay for the expensive creatures that they are. Now we’re back to where we started 32 years ago- just Davis and me. It took a couple of mournful weeks for me to adjust to not having any children at home, but soon we nestled down into the soft feathers they’d left behind and took to the empty nest quite nicely. It may be one of my favorite seasons so far- but don’t tell our kids. It would hurt their feelings. I guess we just sit and wait for the next season now. The one where the kids take our keys, clean out our house, and move us into a facility, where I’ll go to crafts class and Davis will sit in the game room and watch sports with the only other man resident in the building. I can see where that could be fun, too. 

In looking back over the last 32 years, I’ve made some choices I’m quite sure weren’t the best. My bridesmaid dresses. Blair’s clown themed nursery. Maternity overalls. The wedge haircut. Agreeing to an in-home vacuum demonstration. One thing’s for certain though- Davis Miller will always be one of my finest choices. I’m not sure what I would do without him. I’m not even sure what I would’ve done the last two weeks without him. He is the love chapter and I’m thankful God gave him to me. 

We’re heading out tomorrow for a few days in Chattanooga. The kids will join us there on Thursday for a long weekend. We were planning to go out West, but the timing just wasn’t right with Blair’s upcoming embryo transfer on April 2. We all felt the loss of Otis and we all look forward nervously but with hopeful anticipation to April 2. On this anniversary, it just felt right that we should all be together. 

Hope you have a great day! See you next week. 

JONI 




Monday, February 12, 2024

Ten Years with You



First, thank you for all your sweet words. When our hearts are sad, there is no substitution for the comfort of friends. This week marks 10 years of being friends with you through this blog and we’ve experienced a lot of things in those years. Graduations, grief, a wedding, national tragedies, personal losses, celebrations, an empty nest, milestone birthdays, surgeries, retirements, a pandemic, election seasons, menopause. Even a casting call from Naked and Afraid. For every one of us, life weaves triumph, pain, loss, exhilaration, sorrow, joy- all together in our summation of days. We couldn’t bear the sorrow without the hope of joy returning and we wouldn’t appreciate the joy without feeling the occasional sting of sorrow. Matters of love, loss, change- they’re pretty universal and, thankfully, we can relate and share those experiences together. I’ve so enjoyed doing that with you for a decade. 

As I always do, I was reading the comments on Otis’s post and one, in particular, stopped me in my tracks. So much so that I’m writing a whole post around it. LeighAnn, a reader who I don’t know personally, wanted me to know that she was having trouble sleeping last Monday night. As is her custom when she can’t sleep, she uses that time to pray for her children and family. LeighAnn said, as she was praying for them, she felt a nudge to pray for me, a lady she’d never met. Although she felt like she knew me through the blog, she had no idea why she was being moved to randomly pray for me, but she did and she’ll never fully realize what that meant to me. That she would take time to pray for a stranger for an undisclosed reason.

The flip side of that is, in the middle of the night on Monday, while I was fast asleep and blissfully unaware- the God of heaven and earth was looking ahead to what little me would experience within just a couple of days and considered my upcoming heartache to be significant enough that He paused to ask one of His children to pray for me. Even with wars and sickness and death and chaos of every kind going on in the world, He took a moment to lead His child to pray for me because I was going to lose a dog I loved. Imagine that. Something very small in comparison to so many other things. He knew I would need certain things in extra measure from Him. Things I had no idea I’d need. LeighAnn did her part and God did His and I’m so thankful she relayed the story to me. It completely humbled me. 

The various pains I carry around in my heart are different from the ones you bear. Some of our struggles are big and public and make their way onto prayer lists or even newspapers, but most are the ones we carry quietly and try to come to grips with on our own through prayer. If I asked us all to list the things that are weighing on our hearts in the comment section, our lists would all be unique and far-reaching. We might read them all and be tempted to subconsciously rank them in order of severity and significance, but God doesn’t do that. All He knows is, if one of His children is hurting in their heart, He will do whatever He has to do- no matter the time of day or night- to help that child bear the pain. In matters big or small. 

I couldn’t wrap up today without an attempt at an Otis analogy. One of his many quirks was he wanted to go in and out all day long. He’d see his doodle friends from the window and bark to go out and I’d open the door to let him go play. In the middle of playing, he’d stop dead still, cold turkey and run to the door wanting back inside. He didn’t need anything. He just wanted to come back in for a short roll call to make sure I was still here. After taking attendance, he’d be ready to head back out for some more. This happened all day long. In and out. In and out. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why he was obsessive with the routine checks. At some point, someone had left him behind as they drove off. He’d been abandoned and, even though he knew he was loved here, he carried that scar around with him. The fear that it might happen again. So, he’d never allow himself too much time to lie in the sun, run with other dogs, or chase squirrels before he’d have to head back in to settle in his mind that his person was still here. Once he had his confirmation, off he’d go again. 

We all have hurt we bear. Maybe from bad experiences, trauma, rejection, unfulfilled longings, loss, fear, betrayal. Life has a million different ways it can leave us scarred and hurting. There are times we might find ourselves like my rescued dog- frantically searching for evidence that God, our Father, is still there. Needing reassurance that He hasn’t left us. Let me assure you, not only is He there, but as I’ve been reminded- He is working day and night on our behalf. If a dog’s death reminded me of anything, it is that most basic truth. He is for us. He is good. He is faithful. Even in those things that seem so small up next to the big things. If it hurts your heart, He cares. Enough to make provisions for you and weave ribbons of mercy into your situation to make it easier to bear. 

Thank you for giving me the honor of reading my blog for 10 years. I wish we could all get together somewhere to celebrate over a big sheet cake, maybe some pineapple-ginger ale punch, and karaoke. You are a blessing to my life. We will laugh again soon. 

Much love, 

JONI 

“I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3

Thursday, February 8, 2024

11 Months, 2 Weeks, and 4 Days

Otis and I walked in the vet’s office on Monday for his (almost) one year visit. It had been 11 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days since he came to live with us. We checked in at the desk and sat down in the waiting room. Otis’s legs were shaking and he was nervously pacing, but he wasn’t so nervous that he couldn’t do periodic squirrel checks from the glass door. Otis likes the familiar. The routine. The usual. He’s a man who prefers to stay within the chalk lines of ordinary, standard, and regimented. Vet visits aren’t something we do frequently enough to qualify for that list. 

A young lady came in after we were seated. It was obvious she’d been crying. She told the receptionist she was there to sit with her dog. When she said his name, her voice cracked and the silent crying started. The kind that wants to come out in wails, but just releases itself in shaking instead. I wasn’t sure of the circumstances, but I thought it was likely an end of life situation. I wanted to hug her. I recognized that hurt on her face. I remembered that grief. I looked over at Otis and thought how much joy he’d brought me. So much laughter and so much love. But, I knew when I took him as my own, there would be another day in the future when I would be heartbroken over him. It was a stipulation I’d agreed to on the front end- just like the poor girl at the counter. It was then I remember thinking- well, at least, he’s young and I won’t have to worry about that for a long, long time. 

You know the story. Otis and I first crossed paths as I was driving home, one October night in 2022. He walked across the road in front of my car- obviously lost and out of place- and, from that point, I was never able to get him off of my mind. On February 17, 2023, he was finally captured and he came to live with us when he was released from the vet on the 18th. The 18th of this month was going to be a BIG day at the Miller house. There would be a pup cup- maybe a McDonald’s cheeseburger. A trip to the country to chase squirrels. All the things Otis loved to do to celebrate a year with him. Instead, I’m sitting here doing what I do when I lose something precious. I’m trying to process my grief through writing, because I lost my good boy yesterday. He went outside to play with several neighborhood dogs in our yard and was hit by someone who sped off. He died in my arms on the way to the vet. Two days after I’d empathized with the young lady at the counter, we were walking through the same doors with his lifeless body. 

Otis’s life story was a mystery. We’re not sure how he ended up on the streets. He had so many little quirks. We’re not sure if he was dumped on the streets because he had so many quirks or if he had so many quirks because he was dumped on the streets. There were a couple of months devoted to just forming a bond with him so he wouldn’t run off and that required that he and I be attached by a leash at all times. To say we bonded would be the understatement of all of history. We tried the underground fence after bonding. We moved flags and rearranged flags and moved flags again, but a man’s man like Otis wouldn’t be reined in by a few flags and electricity. For the first few months, it seemed like we’d solve one problem and another would be created. We spent approximately a quarter of a million dollars and 5,421 manpower hours trying to find the right solutions for him. We were always looking for a balance between keeping him safe and letting him be happy being the kind of high-energy hunting dog he was- we decided life behind a fence would be misery for him. 

After a couple of months of domestication training, he worked his way from the yard/garage into our house with the only casualties being a few throw pillows, some socks, 3 dog beds, a Christmas gift- well, you get the idea. Eventually, he learned the rules of the house and abided by them most of the time. But, in his heart, Otis was a man of the great outdoors, so his bed was next to the glass backdoor where he could be apprised of any and all movement of any kind. A squirrel, a cat, a leaf, a piece of paper, another dog- all would call for his immediate action as he would start singing verses of his hound dog songs signaling I needed to open the door at once before he segued into the chorus. He just wanted to hunt. All. Day. Long. Davis was walking him three times a day and taking him to the country 2-3 times a week to let him run and explore and chase every living thing. He chased all manner of moving things and, when he was feeling especially frisky, sadly, he’d chase a car or 4-wheeler which led to his untimely end on our quiet, little street. 

Heartbroken is the only word to describe what we are- Ruby, Davis, me. I know there are people with far bigger problems and have experienced losses that are so infinitely deeper than this, but the heart grieves for what it loves and, at the moment, mine is grieving for a dog it loved named Otis. Who stole my heart on a busy road on a dark October night. Since he came here, I was his person. The one he looked for when he needed reassurance and comfort. As women, we like to mother and make things better for the one who needs extra help. When someone needs a little more support to get along, it brings to the surface all those nurturing instincts God gave us. Otis had awakened all of that in me. I saw in him something so sweet and so very gentle and yet so hurt and so broken. It was my goal to make him know what love and happiness were all about. And for 11 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days, I did my very best to love him in a way that would make him forget everything that came before us. Otis finally knew what it was to feel safe and loved and secure and so very wanted. I just wish he’d had more time to enjoy those things. Safety, love, security, belonging. He needed so much more than 11 months, 2 weeks, and 4 days to feel all those good things he deserved. 

Today has been hard. I so dreaded getting out of bed knowing I wouldn’t find him in any of those places where he should be. There are reminders of him in every corner of our house. Ruby is looking for him outside and smelling where he was last. And whenever she hears my crying grow audible, her little feet come clicking down the hall headed to where I am. She sits down quietly next to me and puts her paw on my arm or my leg. No words are needed. She can’t offer those. She’s just letting me know she knows how I feel because she’s feeling it, too. What loyal and devoted friends, we have in our dogs. Ruby has brought so much joy to our home in her 5 years here. I know the bill for loving her will come due one day, too. Please, let it be a long, long time from now. Such a sweet return but so high a price. It has me asking if I’ll ever do it again. 

Yesterday morning, instead of speaking a quick good morning to my Otis with a usual rub under the chin, I knelt on his bed, put my elbows down next to him, and lingered there with belly rubs and baby talk. Naturally, I have some regrets, but the way he was greeted to meet his very last day isn’t one of them. 

If I live to be 110, I will never stop missing a dog named Otis. 

Rest easy, my good, good boy. 

JONI 

Thank you to Dr. Misty McNeil who took care of Otis when he was brought in off the streets- all the way through Monday. Yesterday, she simply took care of me when there was nothing more to be done for him. She was always so attentive and loving to Otis and wanted to help me find solutions for some of our challenges. You know you have a first-class vet when they get on the floor and cry right along with you. That’s not stuff they learn in school. That comes from the heart. I will always remember her for that. 

Thank you to Amber Robinson who caught Otis and made it possible for him to know so much love and fun before he lived out his short days. Because of him, she and I were brought together in friendship. She was there in the beginning and the middle and she was there at the sad end. I don’t know how rescue people like her do what they do- putting mistreated animals above their emotional comfort by allowing themselves to experience grief over and over and over again. She’s been so supportive in wanting to help me help Otis. What a sweet parting gift for Otis to leave his person- a beautiful friend. 



Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Talk: The Final Saga

When I was about 10 or 11, my mother called me into her bedroom, one afternoon, and shut the door. I remember thinking this must be something really big and important. Boy, I’ll say. I sat down on the bed, while she proceeded to have “the talk” with me. I don’t remember all that much about it except there was a book, some repulsive, implausible concepts explained, and subsequent awkwardness and urgency to return to playing outside. You remember that. You’re probably visualizing in your mind where you were when your mom had the talk with you. Looking back on it, Blair gives me somewhere between a C+ and C- for my discussion with her. Most everyone can picture their mom on that particular day. Her face flushed as she stuttered and stammered trying to explain things without really explaining them. It’s one generation getting the next ready for a big change that’s coming their way, so they’re not completely caught off guard some fateful day in 7th grade math. Oh, but they could’ve never completely prepared us- as blissfully carefree as we were- for what atomic bomb awaited us, but it certainly helped softened the boom. 

I’ve been thinking it would probably be prudent for a mother to have a second talk with her daughter. When a daughter celebrates her, let’s say, 47th birthday, her mom ought to ask her to come over and talk again. Maybe the discussions could be labeled “The Talk” and “The Talk: The Final Saga.” This time, she should explain the next big transformation that lurks on the horizon. Something like- Now, you may be noticing some changes in your body and that is perfectly normal. It’s called a muffin top and you will have it until the day they put you in the ground. You may find yourself more irritable and impatient than usual as I, too, have found you to be. You might hear your friends talk about having trouble remembering things, but don’t let that frighten you. You, too, will start to notice you can’t even think of names of everyday objects. You might say to your husband, “Please, hand me the…the….that….over there…you know…..the black thing that changes channels.” Again, no cause for concern. Like generations before you, you will walk into a room, stand there, and wonder what you’re supposed to be doing. Your chin will start to grow stray hair that will remind you of your Grandpa Jones. And, one day, out of nowhere, you’ll start to sweat and burn from your forehead to the small of your back. You might suspect you’re having a stroke, but it’s all very normal and natural and you should never feel weird or self-conscious. Don’t forget you’re still special- just in a changing way. 

Last week, I went for my yearly appointment and mentioned my increased hot flashes/night sweats to the doctor and he offered some prescription remedies for my unpredictable overheating. I wasn’t interested in adding to my medicine stash, so he said I could try the natural supplement, Gingko Biloba, for the flashes and accompanying brain fog. I came home and ordered a big bottle from Puritan’s Pride. I skipped right over their 1 and 2 month supply options and went straight to the cheese ball tub size. I took my first dose yesterday and I’m expecting big things. Cold, icy, and rainy may describe conditions on the outside, but heat and fog are the weather systems that have moved in and stalled over me at the moment. 

I filed into the choir loft on Sunday with the rest of the singers and, as soon as the air in the sanctuary hit my face, I knew it would be a long service. With the weather outside being unusually cold, the powers that be had obviously overcompensated with the heat setting. You know, those nameless captains of church climate who stay in the shadow of anonymity so to not attract criticism from the cold crowd or the hot herd. Not wishing that their parishioners succumb to the cold lest the hospital list get out of hand, it was apparently decided to err on the side of incineration that day. To splurge on the electric bill and envelop the congregation in a blanket of fire. And so, it was. 

Did I forget to mention the choir wears robes? On any given Sunday, this isn’t a big deal one way or another but, on this particular day, it became a considerable factor. The robe serves as, let’s say, the aluminum foil on a baked potato- trapping in the heat and moisture for faster cook times. Quickly, the heat enfolded me and, making its way under the robe, it set off one of my hot flashes. The kind of heat that burns and tingles the nerve endings and comes up from deep within- I suspect somewhere around the kidneys or small intestines and working its way up through the chest, neck, and face before finally rolling down the back in drops of sweat. It’s the kind of heat that will make a woman look down to be sure she hasn’t accidentally caught herself on fire. 

The church bulletin has long served dual purposes of informing congregants of the order of the service and its lesser-talked-about side gig of the creation of air movement in warm surroundings. Did I mention our service is televised? Bulletins waving back and forth in the air aren’t the most becoming backdrop for a  pastor, but I suppose a choir loft full of fainting goats wouldn’t be that great either. I looked around and noticed most of the 50-and-over altos were red-faced and shifting uncomfortably in their seats. I did create a few gusts of wind with my bulletin until I deemed it too distracting for the level of comfort it brought in return. I listened intently to the sermon as my innards reached the temperature of rare, then medium rare and, by the hymn of invitation - well done. 

Mothers of 40-something daughters, don’t wait and let your daughters get their information on the streets. Change is coming. Knowledge is power. 


Night, y’all-

JONI 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Pleasant Dreams?


It’s been unusually cold and even icy here as I’m sure it’s been where you live. Being stuck in the house for a couple of days, I don’t have much to talk about so I’ll tell y’all about a dream I had. I’m a big dreamer. The kind you do while sleeping, that is. My dreams have so much detail and it’s crazy how I remember most of them. I’m not sure what that says about me. I read that people who have more white matter in their medial prefrontal cortex, which is linked with processing info about ourselves and introspection, are more likely to remember dreams. I don’t like to brag about my white matter but if you’ve got it, you’ve apparently got it. 

On Sunday morning, I’d never been so thankful to wake up and realize I was just dreaming. I know I’ve told y’all about this dream before because it’s recurring. In my almost 10 years (next month) of blogging, I know it has surely been discussed before now. The setting may be different each time. The people may change. The details may vary. The gist of it never does. First of all, y’all know I did floral work for weddings for 20 years. My last wedding was in 2009. Stay with me. 2024 - 2009 = 15 years. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been responsible for a wedding and I’m still having this dream. 

As Sophia on The Golden Girls would say, “Picture it.” I’m in the chapel of the church where I grew up. I’m busy working on my friend’s wedding. Her name is Sheila. I’m also supposed to be a bridesmaid in the wedding. It’s a dual responsibility, which I’ve tackled many times in real life so no big deal. I’m busy. So, so busy. Working hard but hardly making any progress. I’m going through my checklist in my mind. I’m looking at my watch. All the things I have to do. The bride’s bouquet. The bridesmaids’ bouquets. The church arrangements. The candles. The pew markers. The boutonni√®res. All of sudden, there are people everywhere. Lots of people. I realize it’s time to take pictures and guests are starting to arrive. I see so many people I recognize in their wedding attire. They’re wondering what’s going on. They’re asked to wait outside until I get finished. They’re impatient. Standing in the street outside. Not only do I have hardly anything done, I’ve made a huge mess on the floor with what I have done. On top of that, I haven’t even showered and gotten dressed for my bridesmaid duties. I have to go to tell Sheila. I pass the bridesmaids in their lovely light blue gowns. I look and look for the bride, but she’s nowhere to be found in the crowd. I look for her mom to tell her the bad news. There won’t be a bride’s bouquet. Nothing for the attendants to carry. The church only has candles and no flowers. The guests will be late getting inside because of the mess. And I won’t be in the wedding because I’ve not bathed or dressed. Her mother was so kind and understanding- just like in real life. She hugged and kissed me and I slinked off to my car and left my friend to get married in an undecorated church without me standing by her side. As if I wasn’t feeling bad enough, a lady from the church called and let me have it. As a bona-fide middle child, people-pleaser, I woke up and relief doesn’t begin to cover what I was feeling when I realized none of that really happened. 

I was telling Davis about my dream on our way to church. He knows, once or twice a year, that’s my mind’s go-to dream in some shape or form. It’s always flowers and a wedding and not getting the job done. I felt like we were having a Pharaoh and Joseph moment. Not that he claims any dream interpretation skills, but he asked me if I was feeling inadequate or inefficient or overwhelmed in anything. After all, that is the obvious theme of these white knuckle dreams. I couldn’t think of anything out of the ordinary, but don’t we all, sometimes, feel like we’re living under the shadow of expectations we’re not sure we can meet?
 
Then, it dawned on me. Over the weekend, I’d typed out a post draft telling you I’d decided to go in another direction with my writing- maybe microblogging which is basically what I was doing before the blog. I’ve been praying about this for almost a year now. I still don’t have a clear answer on what I’m supposed to do, so I just typed out a draft to see how putting the words down felt- trying to find the right keys through my tears. I was going to just let it simmer on the back burner and keep praying for direction. I needed to make sure I wasn’t holding on just because it’s been part of my identity for so long. After a month shy of a decade, it’s harder and harder to find things we haven’t discussed….repeatedly, in some cases. We’ve covered just about every topic, expressed every emotion, shared every kind of experience, laughed at every joke. We’ve talked our way through every season, occasion, milestone. I have a fear of sounding like a broken record and, if dreams are our mind’s way of processing what we’re feeling, maybe it was the draft that sparked my go-to inadequacy dream. We may all feel inefficient or inadequate at times, but, thankfully, His grace is always sufficient for us. 

All that to say, I’m still praying about where to go from here. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere else, where you can go along with me. I won’t bring this up again until I’m sure of what God wants me to do. I don’t want to beat this into the ground and I’m NOT fishing for complimentary feedback, so please don’t think that. This is just what we do here- talk about what’s on our minds. Until I’m absolutely certain, I’m staying put and we’ll keep doing what we do with not another word about it. For 10 years, it’s been and continues to be one of the greatest blessings, absolute joys, and humble privileges of my life. 

Sweet dreams, y’all-

JONI 




 

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Post-Christmas Indolence Report

First of all, I have to say we were all overwhelmed with the emails and messages concerning Blair and John Samuel’s miraculous turn of events. Whether you shared your own story of infertility, promised your prayers, or offered encouragement- every single word was a gift to us all. Thank you so much for taking the time to encourage them- to encourage us. You all really touched my heart and I can’t say thank you enough. They’ve delayed the transfer until the first week of April. With just one embryo, they want to have time to get Blair in the most ideal condition for the big day. We really would all appreciate your continued prayers for them through the coming months. 

So, did y’all survive the endurance test that is Christmas? For three or four days in a row, it feels like you’re off to the races. Bake something, put it on a pretty platter, get dressed in some shade of red or green, load gifts in the car, drive to family’s house or wait for them to get to yours, eat cream cheese, bacon, butter, almond bark, and refined sugars in various forms and shapes. Repeat steps for each side of the family- which can be a lot of repeats if you get together with your extended families like we do. 

Now I’m having trouble getting back up and at ‘em. Something about those two weeks- the one leading up to Christmas which exhausts you with all the things you have to do and the one after which spoils you because absolutely nothing is expected of you. Put them back to back and you become this lazy layabout  who can’t walk past a chair without plopping down in it……and, before you know it, you’ve been staring off into space for 20 minutes. Yes, I’ve done that a few times. And I can’t stop eating…..or sleeping. That’s all I want to do. Eat. Sleep. Sit in a chair. So, if anyone has the antidote for the two weeks surrounding Christmas, please share. I’m suffering from lingering effects. 

I don’t know how you all celebrate Christmas, but Christmas night is when we have our big meal, open gifts, and celebrate with our little family. After we’ve been with friends and extended family, it’s the night we have our most special celebration with our closest people. It’s my favorite night of the entire year. It’s just us, our children, their significant others, and my sweet mama. We open our gifts one at a time- one person at a time. I figure if I’ve shopped since July, gone to the grocery store about 42 times, and worked like a dog since Thanksgiving, by golly, we’re going to stretch this thing out as long as possible. 

I’ve loved watching all the Facebook reels of what people gave and received for Christmas. Especially the parents of little kids. I really miss those days. Somehow, they’re not quite as fun to shop for when they’re shaving and paying mortgages. 

I start asking for gift suggestions in the summertime. I give them budget perimeters and wait for the responses. Gift giving is my love language, so I enjoy every minute of the hunting and gathering. Blair wanted a specific purse- gold, sparkly, and conspicuous. Also on her list were workout clothes and a Pura scent diffuser. Carson wanted Birkenstocks. He’s into vinyls- mostly classic rock. And he asked for Dickie’s work pants- which I don’t get these young people and their trend of going out on the town looking like UPS drivers but whatever, son. John Samuel asked for sunglasses, running shoes, and he loves reading and baseball memorabilia. Davis- he’s the worst one. He’s a practical man and doesn’t have any wants. “I don’t need a thing…just save your money.” As a result, he gets a lot of stuff that probably makes him wish he’d given us suggestions. And since the kids grew up, stockings are now for socks and underwear with a few sugary treats at the top. Christmas night around here is no time to be sheepish about your undergarment preferences. Everyone will leave knowing yours. I did spare Carson’s girlfriend from this new family tradition and stuffed her stocking with more fun things. 

I didn’t realize until I was making my photo book for 2023 that I hardly took any Christmas pictures. It’s so unlike me. This about sums up all I have of Christmas ‘23, but what a joyful one it was! 



I know this was boring as can be, but it’s the best I could do for someone who’s been sitting in a chair, eating Christmas candy, and staring off in the distance since December 26. I mainly just wanted to thank y’all for your love and prayers for my family. We’re still in awe! I’m ready to get on with the new year and new start! I’ve had my thinking cap on for fresh ideas of different things we can do together this year! Now let’s see what we can get into in 2024! 

Much love to y’all!
JONI 





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