That part of the story is good, but what's even better is the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. I've been saving this part just for this post.
About three weeks ago, Carol emailed me and said, "You're going to be getting something in the mail and there's something missing from it that I said was in there and I'll need to explain it all to you."
Cryptic, much? I was, of course, passionately interested, and bird-dogged the mailbox for the next couple of days, skidding out to the front porch just as soon as the mail carrier went down the steps and across the way to our neighbors' house.
The mysterious envelope, entrancingly bulky and enticing, arrived the day after Carol's email. Inside was a cute card, but inside the cute card were two twenty-five dollar gift certificates for the Olive Garden. I did what might be expected after I nearly fell off my desk chair: I burst into tears.
"Why are you crying?" asked Aisling, who still hasn't figured out this whole happy-tears thing. To a fourteen-year-old, tears indicate a squabble with a sister, an unfair mother or a really touching episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
"I'm just so ha-ha-haaaaappy," I sniffled, wiping my eyes with the back of my wrist as I read Carol's card.
The story therein had two parts. The first part was about how she was relating my story of the Olive Garden Project to Uncle Graham; how it was Meelyn's idea, how we were accumulating unexpected amounts of pocket change and the occasional extra dollar bill; how we hoped to save up $80 to cover starters, entrées, dessert and the tip; how we were all really enthusiastic about the idea of a festive meal to say goodbye to the old year and hello to the new.
As she was reading blog posts to him, Carol said Uncle Graham was looking thoughtful. "How's about we help them along with that?" he asked her. Well, since Carol is the most generous and thoughtful person living on the face of this planet, more like my sister than my cousin, bonded to me for this life and the next through the shared experience of sleeping on a spider-infested couch, she immediately said "Great!" and they bought us one $25 gift card.
But wait! The happy isn't finished happening yet!
The following Monday, Carol went to work and was sitting at her desk enjoying every single second of her job -- she works in human resources and is in charge of making sure everyone's insurance benefits and the payroll are all up to snuff, so you know how delightful and stress-free her days are -- when her friend Lois came up to her. Lois is a faithful follower of InsomniMom, which makes me want to throw my arms around her neck and weep out my tearful thanks, and that's even before she did what she did about six seconds later.
"I've been reading about Shelley's family, how they're saving up to go to the Olive Garden on New Year's Eve?" she said to Carol. "And I have this money here; I was thinking about donating it to some organization, but I'd like to give it to Shelley and her family. Could you buy them a gift card and send it to them?"
Well. Well! Talk about touching! I have met Lois precisely once, and here she was, wanting to buy us an Olive Garden gift card! I nearly drowned at my own desk.
So our happy meal -- we had a darling waitress and we left her a honkin' big tip -- was dedicated in a toast to Lois, Carol and Uncle Graham, the benefactors of our feast, with heartfelt thanks and prayers for a joyful new year. We appreciate the three of you so very, very much.
I don't think there could be a better ending to that story, do you?
By the way, our bill came out to $55. Once we left the tip, we still had a goodly amount, so we put it to a vote and immediately started ourselves off on an account to pay our annual dues to the swim club, which are due in May. Since we do the swim club in lieu of a vacation every year and since it is our main form of summer recreation, allowing us to get outdoors and enjoy nature, it's kind of important to us to make sure we get those dues paid, but it definitely isn't easy. This year, with Meelyn's brilliant money-saving strategy to guide us, I think I'll be posting the results of another successful venture in May.