The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Sunday Lull May 17, 2015

My kid is in my bed, playing on his 3DS, the volume’s up on the accompanying soundtrack which, after the nineteenth time is annoying enough, let alone the nineteen-hundredth time. He’ll mute it if I ask, but I don’t, because the music seems to add to his enjoyment of the game. This is, after all, Sunday morning. That island in the week where nothing can touch you (if you aren’t a church-goer, that is!). It’s the one day that I let the chickens out a little later, the one morning when the clock tells me it’s 6 am and my heart doesn’t tighten at the prospect of the morning rituals before me… I enjoy my bedroom’s comfy chair on weekend mornings, and although the seasonal bouquets of lilacs and lily of the valley are no longer at their fragrant peak, having them here is a rare treat, and confirms for me that we’re still in that magical and short-lived time of the year I love so well. It’s a Sunday at home in the Springtime, and Elihu and I are together, each doing something that we love to do. Things don’t get much better than this.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been given a couple of unexpected gifts which have really helped to lift my spirits too. I guess I didn’t realize that I presented to the world as being so in need – maybe living in a constant state of never-quite-enough has dulled me a bit to the fact that not all folks live like this – and that there may exist a chance that I myself might not always live this way. While it might be my goal, I’ve never been able to imagine a time when Elihu and I could live without food stamps or assistance to heat our home. I suppose the goal is to glean an income from the Studio one day, yet still, that seems so far off, I can’t quite see it. Currently, our income is most often less than our basic living expenses, with my stalwart mother stepping in to make up the difference. It’s the little things that make it impossible to get ahead – unexpected car repairs, new shoes, haircuts, even shampoo and laundry detergent – things that by themselves don’t seem too much, but when they arrive one after the other can clean out a checking account pretty quick.

Lately I’ve been keeping track of these expenses and trying to nail down where my money goes and why it is I can’t seem to get enough… And one of these recent gifts was membership into a program which helps to get such control over money. The timing of this gift was perfect. Just as I’d been making columns, listing my costs and my income and beginning to use cash only instead of debit cards, this arrived. A woman I’d known from another lifetime as a kid in my hometown had gotten this program for me with the provision that I follow it for the next ninety days. I am so there. Can’t say I’m not a bit nervous – I still haven’t gotten those new gigs nailed down yet, so I’m still short on the income side. That means spending still less, and when you already live so modestly, it’s hard to know how to do that. Reduced my cable to basic, my garbage removal to once a month, trying to unplug the power supplies around the house, turn things off… Still, it’s daunting, this idea of breaking even, let alone of saving.

And then there was the second miracle gift – a person with whom I have some musician friends in common gave me an unexpected gift of cash, which has allowed me to put a little away, as well as pay the electric bill left over from a too-long winter. How did these things happen? Hard to understand, and for me, hard to actually accept the help. I waffled over the offers for a while, before I realized that if I were in a position to help someone else, I’d do it. And my grandmother used to tell me that the best way to receive a gift is to simply say ‘thank you’ – and mean it. I did, and I do. And I’ll be living my gratitude for these acts of kindness by continuing to push up and out of my situation. I’ve got lists, plans and goals. Sometimes I don’t think I’ve made much progress in my time here, but then I’ll look back over the past six years here and realize that a whole lot has happened. And although the steps are tiny, they are forward-moving, and after a while, baby steps actually do get you somewhere else.

Monday morning will come soon enough, and I mean to meet it with enthusiasm and hope. I often say to my kid that this is not a planet for wimps. And me, sometimes I feel mighty wimpy. So I’ll use this lull in my life to recharge and regroup. Church or not – what a blessing is a Sunday morning.

 

First Friday November 28, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:12 pm
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In all of my life I have never participated in this Black Friday stuff. And to be honest, I don’t recall there even being such a phenomenon for the first half of my life. Maybe it existed, but not the way it does today. Seems it’s picked up speed over the past decade, too. It would never have interested me anyway; the sorts of gifts I like to give are books signed by the author (usually after having sent them my own personal copy first, months before, with a brief letter of enquiry along with means for postage paid return) or a cherished print returned to its owner matted and framed (who can justify such a costly project for themself?), a rare kitchen tool, or maybe a case of a favorite wine. Useful things, beautiful things – things that certainly cannot be gleaned from a mad rush to Kmart at five in the morning just after the tryptophan has worn off. I don’t mean to sound like a snob here, but I probably do. If that’s how I appear, so be it.

I do realize there are deals to be had on this celebrated day, yet I still can’t help but feel that even so, why wait til the most crowded, stressed-out day of the shopping year to acquire things one needs? With a little forethought and some careful planning – not too much, mind you, as one means to decrease the stress associated with purchasing, not increase it – one can find good prices on coveted items throughout the year. Me, I waited a good year before buying a tv, and even then it took me weeks to find the best deal, once I’d found the model I wanted. I don’t often exercise such prudent self-restraint, but it was a big purchase, and goddam it, I meant to do it right. And I did.

So are we creating needs we don’t have in order to justify buying stuff at outrageously ‘good’ prices? Or do folks enter those double doors before daybreak with lists in hand, on the search for only the things they came for? Or is it mostly a free-for-all, a mad dash to random endcaps and display bins, hands grabbing frantically to see what lady luck has in store…? My former mother-in-law would both fascinate and frustrate me with her own method of shopping for ‘stuff’ (I think we can all agree that this whole exploration is about shopping for things and not food… That’s another topic altogether). She would return from the store, usually Target or Kmart (that alone drove me nuts as she easily had the means to visit much higher quality establishments), and proceed to show us all that she’d bought – and tell us about all the money she’d saved in doing so. “See?” she’d say, bright with sincerity, “These were half off, so I got two for the price of one!”. Only thing was, she hadn’t bought a single thing anyone in the family needed – or even wanted. She hadn’t gone to the store for anything in particular, just a deal. And what she came back with was always crap. Pressed to recall what that crap was exactly, I cannot remember. But trust me, the shit she came back with had me wanting to drop my jaw and shake my head in amazement, but back then I was a polite thing, and for the most part I withheld editorial comment. (For the most part.)

I myself am a dedicated, purposeful shopper. I always know what I’m looking for. And when I find it, I’ll often buy several of the sought item, because shopping is not for me a stress reliever (I admit that if I had more money, it might be) and I like to make sure I’m set for a while. So today, my son and I will embark on our first ever Black Friday experience, in search of several very specific items, all of which we are fully prepared to learn are sold out. The purchases are not the biggest reason for our trip, however. Today we’re going out on something of an anthropological excursion to see how it is that our fellow citizens live. I don’t get out much, so I think it might even be fun. We’ll have a modest lunch while we’re out, and perhaps make a few impulsive stops along the way. It’s a lot of gas and driving, but we’ll enjoy the ride – we’ve got our music to keep things lively, including the requisite polka collections and of course, a little Steely Dan classic named in honor of the day.

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Post Script: Our outing was a great disappointment; my son realized that the very items he’d wanted (along with every other sixth grade boy in the area) and had hoped would be marked down in price were, in fact, not selling for a penny less, nor would they be anytime soon. He’s currently studying economics in school, and if ever there were a real-life lesson on the subject, here it was. He was able to get something for his little brothers, but all in all, the experience was a letdown. And even by mid-afternoon the lines, both in the stores and out on the street, were long and slow-moving. Happily, I’d brought some new polkas along, and sure enough, that was the only consolation to the day.

Our feeling is that it’s probably best to acquire gifts online (and only after reading the product reviews!). At the end of the day we are true homebodies, happiest when our chickens are safely tucked inside their coop, and we ourselves back at home, snug and warm. Malls and masses of humanity just don’t do it for us. No matter, it wasn’t a day wasted, it was a lesson learned. After all, you never know until you go…

 

 

 

Instant Karma January 20, 2013

What a magical day we had yesterday. A day of gifts that astonished us both. Had us with our mouths hanging open, with Elihu smiling uncontrollably in the back seat as we drove home. More than a day of tiny successes, and more than a day of instant rewards, it was a day full of serendipitous surprises that just kept coming as we encouraged ourselves to expect them. I’ve been teaching my son since he was tiny that we create things first in our thoughts and intentions before they appear in our physical world. Yet often, as I share concepts with him that I myself believe to be true, I find that as a flawed, ego-driven adult I am hard-pressed to live as if I believed the very things that I’m teaching. Yesterday, I found that Elihu was my teacher; I let him guide me and encourage me to let go and follow along as he made his way through his day wishing, intending, believing… and manifesting.

In the morning, we considered the day before us. Elihu had a birthday party for twins later in the day. As my son is fond of doing, he’d just given his twin classmates each a toy of his over the past week. While Santa had given him two identical toys and asked him to give one away, it was my son who delighted in the idea of twin gifts going to twin boys. Why not? he’d asked me – he had plenty, and these tiny gifts gave his friends so much happiness. Absolutely. I agreed. And when their mother told me to consider these as sufficient for the boys’ birthday gifts, secretly I was relieved. I felt a little anxious about spending more money when Elihu had already given them some forty dollars worth of toys this week. I suggested we pass on getting them gifts. But Elihu protested bitterly. He wanted to get them something for today. I suggested instead that we just give each a $10 gift card. He was distraught – he told me that the toys he gave them before were unrelated, beside the point. He wanted to treat them as he himself would want to be treated on his birthday – with a very special, exciting gift, and not a silly gift card. “I’m going to busk” he told me, “and I’m going to make $40. Then I can buy each of them a helicopter.” His voice was firm. In the sweetest, most loving tone I could find, I cautioned him that that was a lot to expect on a cold winter’s day. I tried to remind him that even on a nice warm day with tourists on the street, that he sometimes didn’t even make that amount in an afternoon. He began to cry. “Don’t do that! I believe it, why can’t you? I know I will make $40! I will!”. I began to apologize for discouraging him, but he cut me off, “I’ve already made it!” he said, still crying. That stopped me. I took a moment to collect myself, and to think. I had nothing to lose in expecting the same, and I knew that energetically it would help in some way. If we were disappointed, so be it. That was a possibility, but so was the other outcome; so why not choose to expect success instead? In that moment I decided to support my son as best I could.

After a morning of housekeeping and chores we finally made it to downtown Saratoga. I sat on a blanket I’d brought to keep warm, opened a book, and hoped for the best as Elihu began to play his djembe. First, I would like to say that he played better than he has ever played before, and second I would add that it was cold – his hands had to have hurt, but he kept going and going. He played for a good half an hour. I kept my nose down, leaving him to his own and trying not to look like the hovering mother. Although I wanted him to be successful (in playing so well he already was successful in my book), I admit that I was preparing my tender “I’m so very sorry” speech already. After a while, I heard a final woomp on the drum and looked up to see him walking back to me – a very full tip jar in hand. We ducked into the diner for a cup of hot chocolate while I counted up the loot. He’d made $26. Wow. “You know I’m going out again, don’t you?” he asked. I kinda did. And now, I was all on board. We packed up and headed out. Within minutes he had a small crowd of teenagers pulling out phones to take pictures and videos of him, and yelling out “kid, you’re awesome”. He kept at it for another half hour or so, til I called to him we needed to get going.

As we drove to Target, I counted his money. A five, even a ten… impressive. And the final tally? Forty-one dollars. Bingo. He’d made his goal – and even exceeded it by a dollar! He sat in the back seat, trying to contain his joy. I watched him in the rear view mirror as he beamed and giggled to himself. A few minutes later we were in the toy aisle, considering our options. It was beginning to look kinda bleak, and we were just resolving to settle on some less-than-ideal options, when something caught my eye. It was a helicopter with bold red and white stripes – and two sets of props. Twin engines – for twin boys! We moved in to check it out. Elihu had said he wouldn’t settle for a crappy 2 channel toy, but instead had his heart set on a 3 channel heli – a much better quality, more maneuverable toy. This was 3.5 channels. Even better. Plus it had a button on the outside of the box which let you spin the props on the heli inside. It was a Chinook, and it was impressive looking. We then found a cheerful gift bag and headed on our way. At the checkout there was a small hitch; the toy was not in the computer, and in spite of my going back to retrieve the exact price, the system wouldn’t accept it. A manager was called in, the line stopped. While we waited, Elihu grabbed some batteries – because there’s nothing more frustrating than getting a gift that needs batteries and not having any. Another $7. No problem, I can cover the extra. Then the cashier told us some unexpected good news – the toy was actually ten dollars less than we’d thought – and our extra money covered the batteries and the gift bag too! Elihu and I laughed and thanked the guys for helping us out. Then I found a twenty in my pocket – I’d been paid in cash the day before for a lesson – so we even stopped for a snack at the cafe. !

As we drove to the party Elihu remarked that he really thought we’d be rushed today. We were actually five minutes ahead of schedule, and I myself agreed that I could hardly believe it. When we got to the party the reality of a busy Saturday downtown hit me as we began to look for a parking spot. Then we started to tell each other that our spot was waiting for us, we just had to get to it. And sure enough, in a full-up garage, just by the exit, was one vacant space just waiting for us. We pulled in, then enjoyed a leisurely walk through the park to the party, where we arrived just in time to find the first of the afternoon’s entertainments just commencing; mentos and diet coke explosions. Awesome.

He was settled in, and now I had two hours to myself. I often stay with him at parties, but this time parents were sent on their way – so I found myself suddenly surprised with having nothing to do. Hm. This was unusual. What should I do? I considered walking the strip, taking in the windows, the sights, maybe heading to the library to check my email. Naw. Didn’t inspire me. So I asked myself “What would I like to do? What thing would I not usually do, and more specifically, what can I do that I wouldn’t usually do with Elihu?” I knew. I knew, but I felt some guilt. I told myself to ignore the guilt, to let myself off the hook and go. So, I did. I pulled out of my choice downtown parking spot and headed out of town.

Three months ago, while waiting for a prescription down the street, I’d gone into Pier 1 to kill some time and happened to come upon a stunning, deep red pillow. It’s color attracted me first, and the hand of its fine wool was so satisfying. But I didn’t have the money, and furthermore I couldn’t justify such a purchase even if I’d had it. So I filed it away in my brain. We have a rule in our house to prevent against impulse buying: if it’s still on your mind in two weeks, you may reconsider it. I thought back… it was Thanksgiving when I’d seen it, and it was nearly Valentine’s Day now… Dare I reconsider it? Within minutes of entering the store I found the pillow – one of them at least. But I wanted two. I searched for awhile and didn’t find it. Guilt finally overtook me and I put it down, told myself to forget it, and instead just enjoy walking the store and looking at all the beautiful objects. On my way out, I casually asked the clerk about the pillow. She looked it up on the computer and discovered that it was not an item that would be restocked, and also that there did appear to be one more somewhere in the store. My heart lifted. Then the clerk simply looked down and said, “Oh, look, here it is!” and held up the second pillow. It could have been anywhere in that store – but it was right there, within arm’s reach. Needless to say, I was sold. I’d waited more than two months and it was still on my mind. ! My heart was bursting at the beauty of these pillows, at the excitement of bringing them home to live on my couch. 

When I returned to pickup Elihu the boys were in full swing, jumping on each other, hugging each other and ooing and ahhing over the presents… I sat there drinking in that lovely, innocent energy, marveling over how sweet and sincere they all were. Savoring the moment entirely. They told me that they’d just come back from laster tag; the lasers were blue so Elihu could see them (Elihu can’t see the red lasers at all), Elihu did really well (even won a round), plus he had a blast. As we drove home, Elihu remarked that he hadn’t had any cake, because it just looked too sweet and he thought it might make his tummy feel icky. But now he was feeling some regret. We quickly pulled into the grocery store before we left town, and found a perfect single frosted brownie. We took it to the register, and for some reason, the young man decided to ring it up at a lower price. Elihu and I looked at each other. ? We thanked the clerk and headed out. Elihu ate half his brownie on the ride home, and ended up saving half for later.

When I awoke this morning and walked out into the living room, my spirit positively lifted at seeing those gorgeous, deep red pillows on my couch. And now, mid-day as Elihu was looking for a sweet little snack, he was happily surprised to remember his brownie. One magical day has spilled over into the next. I made a promise to my son that I’ll renew my efforts to keep up an expectant and positive attitude. I admit I was due for a little proof of my theories. And thankfully, I got it – almost instantly.

 

Waldorf and Wrenches February 1, 2012

Today was simply magical. Elihu and I have received some news that has transformed our lives. It’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for months now. It’s been a concern of ours for several years, yet as with so many other aspects of life, even something so important eventually becomes just another item on the list and it passes easily without being mentioned. This subject? School.

While Elihu does indeed enjoy school for the most part and does well academically, it’s never been a terribly easy place for him to exist. It’s a tricky environment for an achromat for whom florescent lights are fatiguing and color coding means nothing. Kinda tricky for a nature boy who can’t even pretend to share an interest with his classmates in video games and pop culture. Public school, even a ‘blue ribbon award winning’ school as Greenfield Elementary is, is just plain kinda tricky for my son. Never been a natural fit. And so, since the beginning of first grade, I’ve had my eye on the local Waldorf School as an option. As it takes a lot of money to attend – as in my entire annual household income – I’d essentially put it out of my mind. Besides, the Waldorf moms seemed to me like ‘greener-than-thou’ types in their moisture-wicking, high-end yoga wear and fair trade alpaca ski hats who could actually afford the luxury of eating all organic food. Not my peers. Just a greener version of the new-moneyed residents of my rural hamlet. It had already taken me several years to feel remotely comfortable with that lot; I didn’t have the oomph to learn a new parent scene. So there it lay. But each year, I’d sense the stress that lay just beneath the surface of a happy school experience. Call it a mother’s intuition; I’ve just always known that something was amiss. I’d watch my son’s school bus disappear around the corner and say a quiet prayer of thanks to all those who’d watch over him through the day, adding my hopes that today he’d finally feel he belonged there.

This afternoon we learned that Waldorf will have him if he chooses. I’m over the moon today! There is no waiting list, the teacher herself is thumbs up, the admissions director is on board! Yay! There’s room at the inn! Some people wait years for a space in a Waldorf School. Few people actually even have a Waldorf School in their area. We do! And Elihu is welcome there! I don’t know how we’ll pay for it yet – I just plain don’t. But it will happen. I know this. I do. The school can offer some tuition assistance, but we’ll have to do our part too. Sadly, I don’t hope for any help at all from Elihu’s paternal grandparents; they’ve essentially disowned us. And my folks aren’t really able either. Nor am I. But still, In fact, if we were to find the money right now, he could start tomorrow. So now the hunt for tuition begins. Elihu and I have had the conversation about sponsors many times before (each time after a tearful, post-school episode in which he begs me to get him into Waldorf) and so today I’ve penned a few letters which I’m going to send out to a short list of candidates. I’ll make a plea or two on Facebook, and indeed, hope readers will consider this too a call for help. If anyone would like to help us reach our current goal of twenty-seven hundred dollars for this second semester, oh how grateful we’d be. There it is. Elihu is at the doorstep of a whole new life. He and I are thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. I will sleep with a new peace tonight.

There was also another addition to the day’s unexpected magic… As I pulled into the inner portion of our long driveway today, I saw several large boxes leaning against the old, broken gate. Maximus, our goose, has lately taken to pursuing our visitors rather aggressively, and while he hasn’t actually attacked anyone (violently, that is) he has become something of a deterrent to folks getting out of their cars. Such was the case with the UPS guy, apparently, for the gate is a good hundred yards from the house. My son and piano student got out and picked up the boxes to walk them in on foot. I drove behind, in absolute amazement. Huh? Seriously, what could these packages be? Who on earth were they from?

Guess what the boxes contained? Tools! Really – I mean whole sets of tools. Screwdriver bits, drill bits, ratchet wrenches, socket wrenches, adjustable wrenches, friggin pipe wrenches – screwdrivers, pliers, allen wrenches – both standard and metric yet! An insanely complete set of tools – many of which I honestly cannot see a future use for – but many of which I can. I had only just this past weekend given Elihu his first proper lesson in drilling. I’d brought some scrap in from the garage and assembled screws, drill bits and such on the kitchen floor for him to begin experimenting. The dollar store screwdriver bits were chewed up and didn’t grab too well for drilling, making the lesson a bit less inspiring. (After a time it didn’t really matter; he bored of the exercise and ended up fashioning a rotor blade of cardstock and turning the drill into a propeller. Ultimately, he is ever about things that fly.) It was the most astonishing thing. My student thought it was funny – and told me I had to mention on my blog how I’d said “OMFG” over and over again… (I’d hoped the “F” would cloak my explative. Yeah, right.) At last, I can fix that blasted kitchen chair that takes a crazy, six-sided allen wrench which is actually included in the set! I know, a hexagon wrench isn’t that exotic, but it’s evaded me for the two decades I’ve had these ratty, loose chairs. So there! Tomorrow you shall all be tightened!

I so enjoyed that suspended state of not knowing who sent it, of believing some supernatural character like Santa Claus to be responsible, so I put off looking for the packaging slip for a good while. But we eventually found it, and I did learn the kind sender. I hope that he is smiling as he reads this. I hope it makes him happy to know that this day his gift created a moment of pure delight and surprise for three people in a tiny country house far from the road. These tools will be a useful part of our homestead for many, many years. Thank you. Really. Thanks, you sweetie, you.

And with that, I am off to sleep happily.

 

Anonymous Gifts and Other Surprises January 28, 2012

Many years ago, when my husband and I bought our first home together, it was a magical experience. I had admired the house from afar since I was little, and long before it came to be ours, we would sneak into the screen porch of the dark and empty house and imagine ourselves living in that gorgeous, dusty mid-century behemoth. Its purchase was anything but smooth; after having bid on it for six months to no happy conclusion, I’d ended up trumping an eleventh hour bid from some new party, donning a suit (the one I wore for temp jobs downtown), filling an empty brief case with various books (for heft), swabbing on some very un-me perfume (from a free sample) and walking into the manager’s office at Coldwell Banker insisting that I was prepared to pay cash for that house. I had no such cash to back up my offer. I’d made the offer without benefit of much discussion with my partner, as he was in Japan at the time. I remember a finger on one hand twitching constantly with residual nervousness for many days after I’d made the bluff. A few incredibly stressful weeks later (that in of itself is a story of gifts and other lucky events), we had ourselves a house.

Neither one of us can explain why we did what we did on that first day. At the threshold, Fareed picked me up and carried me into the house. Strangely, he did not put me down right away, but instead carried me down the long front hall, made a right, and deposited me in front of the refrigerator. Everyone knows a good party always convenes in the kitchen, perhaps it was in this spirit that he conveyed me there. There we two stood, facing the fridge head-on. And so naturally, we opened it. There, before us, was a platter upon which stood a bottle of champagne and two champagne flutes. In the center was an envelope on which was written “Welcome to 520”. Immediately our eyes filled with tears. Instantly we realized the love with which the former owners had assembled this gift. After a toast to this magical day, we began looking over the old photographs as we sipped our champagne. Through them we met the family that had lived here for half a century. We saw Christmases in the living room around an enormous tree, we saw the mother and dad – Marcie and Gene – in this very kitchen. We saw children sitting on this very floor. No matter where life may take us now, neither Fareed nor I will ever forget this gift of welcome.

Only a few days after we’d bought the place and had begun camping inside, sorely under-furnished, we received another gift. We’d come home one day to find a massive mound of purple mums in an apple basket on the landing to our front door. A simply stunning arrangement – the kind you admire but quickly pass up as you’d never dare spend that much money on yourself. In it was a card as enigmatic as the delivery itself. It simply said “Blessings on this house.” It was signed “Moon Rain and Storm Cloud”. In the middle of the small card there was a drawing of an eye. Altogether it was very ominous. Obviously, their intentions were good – even perhaps protective. Yet that picture of the eye was slightly disturbing. What was that about? Just what had this house meant to them? What did this house mean to the people in the area? Did folks have a proprietary feeling about the place? It had stood empty over a year. It was a dramatic and distinguished, if not different, looking house. There was no mistaking it, this house had a thing. But a thing that warranted some Native Americans shelling out fifty bucks for a bushel of flowers and offering their unsolicited blessing?? In the end, after sleuthing to the best of our ability in a pre-google world, we gave up and simply offered thanks to our unseen friends for their anonymous gift.

Skip ahead many gifts and many years. I am no longer living in the midst of things. I’m no longer a hostess. My home is no longer a social hub for friends. Now I live alone. Now I live far from the road in a tiny, plain house, devoid of any aesthetic value. I am no longer living in a way that I recognize. I am poor. I go without. Once upon a time, gifts were a nicety, always an expression of love, yes, but mostly they were a genteel thing, a kindness added to an already abundant life. The past few years things have changed. The gifts I’ve received have taken a different form. Some friends, wanting to help, have given me gifts of food and staples – and even money. Given in love, yes, but this is still tricky for me. This is not something I’m accustomed to. Accepting a gift of cash? Is that not crass? In poor taste? This is the voice of a woman who doesn’t understand the true spirit in which the gift is given. A woman who, out of pure need, must soon soon learn to accept it with nothing but sincere thanks given in exchange. (I don’t remember too much about my grandma, but I do remember her telling me that the best way to receive a gift was to say thank you. So simple, so true.) Such gifts have made me cry, made me feel uncomfortable, but in the end, made me feel blessed. They’ve enabled me to warm my house, eat fresh vegetables at supper, pay the electric bill, even move my piano out of storage. These have been life-saving gifts. In my past life I’d never known such generosity in any personal way. I do remember sending five hundred dollars to the Red Cross just after hurricane Katrina. And it too was given in love. So I know how it feels to give. How natural, how important it is that you help others when you’re able. Yet somehow, this seemed different. Gifts of this sort were always anonymous – made through the right channels, legitimate organizations set up for such charity. So when the tables were turned and I became the charity in question, I had to remember how good it had once felt to give of myself, let down the walls of my ego and now learn how to accept. Not always easy, but sometimes essential.

A few weeks ago I sent my divorce attorney an email in which I’d told him that it was in his personal interest that he help me secure a better support settlement; paying him otherwise would take years on my small income. He responded by telling me that he knew my financial situation well; he hadn’t expected to receive payment from me. I was stopped in my tracks. I’d already begun crafting an idea of a payment schedule to him, imagining a tab now in the tens of thousands. Having been absolutely raped by an egotistical, downtown Chicago divorce lawyer early on, I’d come to expect more of the same. I’d sensed something much gentler about this new man, but still and all, he was an attorney, and attorneys are busy, busy people whose time is a very costly thing. When I saw him in person last week, I hugged him in thanks – telling him that I in no way assumed this was a pro bono case, and that I still intended to pay him. While that is true, I’m not sure what that will be. But I will work something out. I will. I mean to make modest monthly payments, and if it doesn’t work to cover much else, I hope he can at least use it to buy some fresh flowers for his wife when he comes home late for the umpteenth time this month.

Just last month, on a rainy December night, Elihu and I arrived home late after I’d played piano at a Christmas party in town. He was to leave for Chicago soon, and as in years past, he lamented his being gone for the holiday, and wondered if Santa would visit him here too (Santa has yet to disappoint in that regard, he needn’t have worried.) Bent over under the rain, we ran to our door to find a couple bags of bird seed in our path. One was a bag of Niger seed. The real stuff – not the second-rate blend you find at the box stores that had been cut with half filler seed, but the real deal. The pricey stuff. At the time, we didn’t get the whole picture. But it was enough to shock me – and to let Elihu know that Santa had remembered him. Of course it was Santa, he told me, because no one else would give real Niger seed! Indeed. No one I knew had the stuff. It was only the next morning after I’d braved the cold to let out the chickens and then returned to the warm kitchen that I did a double take. Huh? Had I seen something unusual on the lawn just now? I looked out the window to see a beautiful iron shepherd’s hook bird feeder holder, complete with three bird feeders. All of them filled. One even held pepper suet to discourage squirrels. What?! I too was pretty close to convinced that we’d been visited by Santa. In the month that’s followed I have asked people, posted on Facebook, even called the local firehouse, all in an effort to learn who this Santa really was. I’d considered putting up a sign of thanks on the roadside, but didn’t want to chance Elihu seeing it. He already knew who’d been here, this was my problem alone. Then yesterday I went to the very boutique where the feeders came from. A store filled with beautiful but pricey bird-related items, it’s not someplace we shop. It’s a place we visit once or twice a year. I had the occasion to stop in as I was buying a bird toy for Elihu’s sister’s birthday. It gave me a chance to query the woman behind the counter. Luckily for me, she did seem to recall the story. She gave me a few hazy suspects. So, be warned, you kind-hearted friends, I just may be on to you. You know who you are. Soon I will too.

Gifts arrive unannounced, anonymously, and also in less than obvious forms. (Take, for example, my surprise divorce and the resulting about-face in my life.) Often, when things go wrong – or appear to be going wrong – Elihu and I remind ourselves that within this immediate disappointment a gift of some sort is surely waiting to be discovered. Perhaps not one that can be recognized immediately, and certainly one that will be harder to receive if one is being all pissy and crabby about how things are not going as they were supposed to, but nonetheless, we’re sure that there is something positive in the mix that will present itself shortly. At least that’s the attitude we try to take (make that I try to take; it’s far more natural and effort-free for Elihu) when plans run aground or take a frustrating turn. I would like to stress – as much for myself as for anyone reading – that to simply consider that there is a joyful outcome hidden within a current upset really does transform the event. It creates hope and possibility. If it changes nothing at a glance, it diminishes the present anguish by offering the potential for something delightful and unexpected yet to happen. It turns a stress-inducing situation into a treasure hunt. You are now on the expectant lookout for a gift. In the form of a serendipitous meeting, a happy conclusion to some other forgotten story, the acquisition of something helpful. Gifts come in many forms. Some much harder to discern than others. Some may even take awhile to present themselves. So keep an eye open. Ya know?

Thank you, all you givers of gifts. Those who have received them are so very grateful.