The clam steamer that started our odyssey.
My uncle is dying and he's central in my mind as George and I board the bus for FedEx.

A buyer purchased a vintage clam steamer with the provision I'd get it out right away. I ship quickly regardless, so I agreed to work a special trip into my schedule in order to unload it. I'm grateful for each sale, but anything that's languished too long--especially if it's large and expensive--generates fist-pumping glee, punctuated by a loud whoop.

George loves bus rides as much as I enjoy selling vintage kitchenwares. It's Ozone Action Day, meaning dangerous air quality and free rides on The Rapid. I tote the bulky package a few blocks to the bus stop. I would've taken my cart, but the parcel is too big to fit and I figure we don't have far to walk. As we approach my favorite FedEx along the river in downtown Grand Rapids, I feel anxious when the bus detours. I debate getting off, but figure it will come back, closer to its original route; instead, it goes farther, leaving us a half mile from our destination.

George at FedEx, in 2010. This time around, though, both boy
and package are much bigger.
But I'm a fast walker, even with the box. I juggle it hip to front, then back again, and consider putting it on my head. My arms beg relief but there's no time to rest--the pickup is in 10 minutes, and I must be on time. I foist it upon my son, who, though bigger by the day, barely sees over the wall of corrugated cardboard.

Point Roberts, Washington is an exclave. So was FedEx.
It's easy to cross roads when they're closed, so we arrive with minutes to spare. I'm thankful to be walking, big box notwithstanding; barricades block the street leading to FedEx, completely cutting it off from the rest of downtown unless approached from the opposite side of the river. Recently I sold an item to Point Roberts, Washington, a town on the tip of a peninsula that requires driving through Canada to reach. Fascinated, I googled. The phenomenon is called an exclave. But just as I begin to pity FedEx for losing business to this geographic oddity, I come to pity myself. FedEx appears ominously dark. A sign on the window reads "Closed for road construction, May 21-24." I round the corner anyway.

I'm not the swearing type, or my son would augment his vocabulary as I futilely try the door. I haven't cussed ever, a factoid that amazed my friend Tammy when I mentioned it the week before. Even so, I feel ill-used by the FedEx management that opted to shut down rather than endure Maytag Man boredom, leaving me with not the gloriously empty arms I had anticipated, but an oversized parcel I hardly know what to do with.

We pass restaurants hopping with dinner patrons on our return to the bus stop. I feel self-conscious whenever it's George's turn to carry the box, fearing they'll question my parental fitness. As much as I strive to save resources--both financial and natural--I question my decision to leave our Nissan garaged. But I promised the buyer I'd send the package today, and though I've already missed the 6:00 FedEx Ground pickup, I begrudgingly resolve to keep my word by upgrading the shipping and taking it to another location for the 8:00 Express. My free bus ride--in a situation I call "frugality gone awry"--will cost me dearly in additional shipping fees. I silently curse the clam steamer, failing to remember that--inconvenience and extra expense aside--my problems are not real problems, and my thrift saves an astonishing amount in the aggregate.

George and I finally divest ourselves of the parcel two and a half hours after leaving home. We wait at the bus stop again. And wait. And wait. The bus is late, and I feel desperate to be done.

George's first bus ride of the day.
Today it's far from his last.
But, as George and I sit in the grass, necks craned in the direction the bus will come from, I'm smacked with a blessing--the overwhelming feeling I have the best child in the world. One who has been on a staggering eight bus rides today sits next to me, quietly, with a gentle smile and supernatural patience, waiting for his ninth bus to take him home. Repenting for my bad attitude and a self-righteousness that deceived me into thinking only my words count, I try to practice the patience modeled by my autistic son. I pray for my uncle, and thank God for the strength and stamina to carry the box on our long walk, and that we no longer bear our burden.

Our journey has taken turns we didn't expect. And as I linger on the sidewalk, chatting up a neighbor who's mulching his flower beds, George hurries to his waiting father.

It is sweet to be home.

Dear Uncle Mark, may you, too, be surprised by blessing on the tough road you face, and cling to the truth that a loving heavenly father awaits.

And it is sweet to be home. It is sweet to be home.

Have you ever felt blessed when blessings seemed they should be farthest from your mind?

Swimming in Satisfaction

While many college students go for the Spring Break debauchery, a more wholesome activity drew me to the Sunshine State: a bassoon audition for the Florida Orchestra.

My school friends, future husband, and Bob,
who came to every school orchestra concert.
Having purchased a professional instrument a few years earlier, I struggled mightily. The Heckel bassoon's $18,500 price tag and its attendant monthly payments stretched me to the limit, even though a music scholarship covered all but room and board. As I scrounged for empty soda cans on my college campus, I often thought to be thankful I lived in Michigan, the only state with a ten-cent bottle deposit.

Being broke honed my resourcefulness. I invited my mom and grandma to Florida to share the cost of hotel and car rental, making the audition trip just barely within my limited means, while still allowing for minimal sightseeing.

Traveling side roads along Florida's coast, we passed sign after sign beckoning, Fresh Fish! Fresh Fish! "When we get to Key West," my mom and grandma resolved, "we'll order fresh fish!" They could not pass an eatery without reiterating their dream of consuming seafood straight from the Atlantic, creating a soundtrack for the veritable slideshow of restaurant signage.
Courtesy: Pleasant Bay Trading Company
Venice: "Fresh Fish!"

The Everglades: "Fresh Fish!"

Key Largo: "Fresh Fish!"

Marathon: "Fresh Fish! Fresh Fish!"

And finally, Key West.

Reluctant to leave my prized bassoon unattended in the car, I hauled it along as we wandered, Goldilocks-style, from restaurant to restaurant. One was too smoky; one, too loud; another, too expensive. Hungry, my mom and grandma settled upon a restaurant that was just right: an oceanside Burger King. In a striking display of irony, each ordered a BK Big Fish sandwich. I was appalled. They were satisfied.

I crashed and burned at the audition. I had dreamed of being a professional musician since 7th grade. I loved music, and practiced hard. Enjoying a fair amount of success, I scored, as an undergrad, positions in four part-time orchestras, besting graduate students from more prestigious music schools. But I coveted a full-time job that, in my mind, bespoke success.

At my first concert as a full-fledged professional musician,
an outdoor concert with the Omaha Symphony.
Taken by my mom, who drove from Michigan
to participate in the momentous occasion.
Having failed repeatedly, I rejoiced upon winning a spot with the Omaha Symphony. The "one year, may become permanent" status never felt tenuous; all my colleagues expressed confidence that my predecessor would remain in his cushy new post, as principal bassoonist with Sydney Symphony.

Months later, rumors swirled that he missed America. Yet, I had not properly steeled myself when the personnel manager approached me backstage with what he considered non-news: "I'm sure you've already heard that Roger is returning from Australia." I nodded, then hurried to a dressing room and sobbed.

Faced anew with the soul-crushing audition process, my husband and I crisscrossed the country. Bassoonists seem rare until you're on the audition circuit. I came close sometimes and felt I'd get another shot at my dreams.

My mom, niece, and son,
at home in Grand Rapids.
When we learned we were expecting a baby, my mom urged, "Come back home!" And we did. Flipping through the employment section of the International Musician that hit the mail slot of our new home each month, we opted to sit out audition after audition.

Phoenix? Too far.

Richmond? Too far.

Buffalo? Too far.

My hometown? Just right.

And I realized, babe in arms, delighting in the presence of family, what my elders realized at Key West's oceanfront Burger King:

Sometimes we bail on our dreams. And we're satisfied.