I sometimes play the "Lottery Game" during the middle of the night when I'm overwhelmed by too many bills and not enough paycheck. I fantasize about winning a bazillion dollars...

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I sometimes play the “Lottery Game” during the middle of the night when I’m overwhelmed by too many bills and not enough paycheck.

I fantasize about winning a bazillion dollars — or at least several million — and how I would spend it. But somehow we always make it through the financial crises, and I end up worrying about more important things, such as whether I locked the back door, or how to stop my husband’s snoring.

This holiday season I played the lottery dream for real. I won $1,000.

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I rarely purchase lottery tickets — a necessary action to win. But on Nov. 10, I was in the express lane at a Redmond grocery store and the man ahead of me purchased tickets for Mega Millions, Quinto and Lotto.

Since I consider Nov. 10 a lucky day — it is my youngest daughter’s birthday — I asked the clerk to sell me three tickets, too. The tickets went into my wallet. Fast forward to Dec. 4. I needed a short strand of lights for a miniature tree, so I dashed to the store. When I pulled the cash out of my wallet to pay for the lights, I also pulled out the tickets, ready to throw them in the trash.

“Wait,” I thought. “I might have won a free ticket.”

The lottery scanner by the customer-service counter said one of the tickets was a winner. I handed it to the cashier.

He took my ticket, checked it on the computer and handed it back. He said I had to go to the lottery office to claim my $1,000.

“Oh, wow!”

The whole weekend I kept saying, “Oh, wow!”

I worked Dec. 6 — a Monday — so my husband went to the lottery office to claim the prize. He stopped at Costco and bought some of those big sugar cookies with the pink frosting (one of my favorite treats) to share with my co-workers. He handed me the cookies — and 20 $50 bills.

“Oh, wow!”

In my big lottery dreams, I always give money to charity and my family, pay off bills and spend some on fun things. My plans include a gift to the clerk who sold me the ticket. I decided to stick to the dream plans.

I went back to grocery store where the clerk was working. She said she wasn’t allowed to accept tips.

“This isn’t a tip; it is a gift,” I said.

I insisted. I would have gone through as many layers of management as needed. She finally took a short coffee break, and walked off store property. She asked me not to use her name here because she doesn’t want to get in trouble at work.

Turns out she reads this column regularly. So we felt like old friends. I gave her $50, and we hugged.

Happiness burbled up inside me, and I sang Christmas carols all the way to my car. That was the first of the $50 bills.

Gifts of love

This windfall turned into a wonderful experience. It has been fun to spend, both literally and figuratively.

The charity part was easy. The same week I collected the money, I had written a story about Eastside Baby Corner. The nonprofit group supplies diapers, formula and car seats for needy infants. I sent the group a check for $100.

One morning I suggested to my husband that we spend some of the money on tickets to the Seattle Men’s Chorus holiday concert — an event I’ve always wanted to attend but never felt I could afford. Coincidentally, the same day I mentioned the concert, The Seattle Times marketing department offered tickets to the concert in exchange for a $50 donation to the Times Fund For The Needy. Does that count as a charity donation? I haven’t decided.

But the concert was delightful, however it comes out on the spreadsheet.

Now I’ve given my husband, my parents and each of my children $50. I put $100 into savings. That leaves me with $300 to spend. Part of that will go toward the Christmas Day roast beef. My husband suggested that I put a bit away to cover the taxes: We didn’t win enough to have Uncle Sam’s share automatically taken out.

But I’ve been thinking about buying a new pair of shoes, a few sessions with a personal trainer or making an appointment with my favorite massage therapist. This has been so much fun, I hate to think of taxes.

My early Christmas present has already reaped greater rewards than I imagined. The joy of sharing has kept me smiling. It seems to be spreading, too, a ripple effect that’s touching.

In her thank-you note, the clerk wrote, “I gave my nephew a larger check for Christmas than normal. He’s a college student and can use it, as I’m sure you know. I also donated to the Salvation Army.”

What could be better than sharing the happiness?

Would I have done the same thing if I had won more money? Probably — just in larger chunks.

Although I’m usually a happy person, this has been an even more joyous holiday season. I think that was my lesson — to relax and enjoy life a bit more. The early gift of $1,000 was just enough to make me go, “Oh, wow!” and not enough to go to my head. My bills haven’t changed, and I’m still not ready for Christmas. But the ride has been a pleasure.

May your holidays be just as much fun!

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or sgrindeland@seattletimes.com