I have Streetbank, the neighbourhood sharing website, to thank for helping me concoct this week's gift.
A few weeks ago, I put out a note asking for help with the garden. Streetbank had already sent me the delightful Wilhelmina to pitch in with our effort to winkle out the weeds and, this week, Jane came along, with her 5-year-old daughter Minnie in tow. She'd seen my notice, had a bit of spare time on her hands (she's an artist), and wanted to do something outdoorsy on what turned out to be a jewel-bright Autumn day.
The lure of a 'big girl' to play with kept my two children amused for a good couple of hours. Somewhere in the midst of the grown-ups' coffee-drinking and chatting, we all had a picnic lunch of flaked salmon and roast vegetables from my neighbour Martin's garden. Oh, and we did a bit of gardening.
When Martin had popped round with his yellow cherry tomatoes, crab apples and crunchy pears, we'd all surveyed the tree of a neighbour whose garden backs onto ours. She's elderly, and, although it was probably the largest, most crowded pear tree I've ever seen, there was little chance she'd be able to pick them by herself. Without help they would just fall and rot and - especially considering the growing numbers of people who are now reliant on food banks - that was a staggeringly sad thought.
Martin offered to borrow a fruit-picking pole from the local Transition Town group. Then, over the next few days, between the two of us Martin and I gathered kilos and kilos of pears, ranging from enormous, fist-like lumpy specimens of a ghostly shade of celery, picked from the highest branches (Martin), to soft, yellowing, dappled windfalls (me, with the help of 1-year-old Gwen).
And now my kitchen smells like a (Perry) brewery. Pear, orange and ginger chutney, pickled ginger pears, and spiced crab apples have all bubbled away on the hob then been transferred into baked, scorching jars.
So I now have a crop of Autumnal gifts waiting to be given. And I even managed to find a new Streetbanker to take a huge carrier bag of pears off my hands, when I reached a stage of pickling fatigue. Chutney is winging its way to the key players in this week's story. And, given that you're supposed to wait months before opening the jars and eating the stuff, a few pear-themed Christmas presents are already sorted.
Mother nature (and my neighbours), I thank you.
Do you have an Autumn-themed gift story to tell? I'd love to hear it, either in the comments below or via email.