In ancient Roman times, women would write love letters and place them in a large urn on Feb. 14. Men would pick a letter from the urn, and for the next year they would pursue the woman who wrote the letter. What romance!
For many people, Valentine's Day (a week from Monday for those who need a reminder) has lost its charm and sentiment. Fading are the days when women would spray love letters with perfume and plant a large kiss in red lipstick as a seal of love and affection. Vanishing are the days when men gave great thought to the type and color of flowers to buy for their lovers and wooed them with poetic lines.
With the relentless marketing campaigns of gift-card companies and jewelry stores, Valentine's Day has been written off as simply another ploy to make money. To dispel these muttered feelings of contempt for the commercialism of Valentine's Day, let's get back to — forgive the pun — the heart of the matter.
This year, why not consider investing more time and thought into expressing love and appreciation for the one you are with, lest the work of old St. Valentine — patron saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, love and lovers — be in vain. Any gift given with love and good intent is appreciated, yet handmade gifts are far more intimate and amorous than anything you'll find at the card store.
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My suggestions include the following:
Fingerprint heart cards
Children love the chance to get in on the Valentine's Day fun. Letting your kids make Valentine cards for classmates, teachers and grandparents allows them to be creative and thoughtful.
Handmade cards are as unique as your child. Making fingerprint hearts might take a few tries, so use scrap paper first. Once you've mastered the technique, move on to the craft paper. After the heart shape is dry, let your kids decorate and write notes on each card.
You'll need: Non-toxic paint or stamp pad, paper and paint brush.
Paint your child's index finger or thumb with non-toxic paint or help them stamp the finger on the ink pad, covering the tip of the finger completely.
Angle your child's finger and press it down to make a first fingerprint. Repaint or restamp the finger and angle it at the opposite angle, meeting the two fingerprints at the bottom. You might need to use a paint brush and touch up the heart shape. Dry completely, then let your kids decorate their personalized cards.
Fortune cookie romance
Order your favorite Chinese take-out and surprise your family with fortune cookies after the meal. These are adapted from Martha Stewart Living, February 2008.
You'll need: colored felt squares, scissors, glue, thin wire, ribbon, paper.
Using scissors, cut a 41/2-inch diameter circle from a piece of felt. Cut a piece of matching ribbon slightly shorter than the diameter of the circle. Cut a piece of floral wire slightly shorter than the ribbon.
Glue the ribbon across the center of the felt circle, sandwiching the wire between the felt and the ribbon. Let dry.
Fold the felt circle in half so the ribbon is enclosed in the circle. Bend the halved felt piece to the shape of a fortune cookie.
Tuck a small strip of paper with a handwritten "fortune" inside.
Freezer paper stencil shirt
Guys love T-shirts. Hunt down the best plain T-shirt you can find and design a custom shirt. Giving attention to his interests, whether it's fly fishing, chess or money market accounts, is a fun way to say "I love you."
You'll need: Something to stencil (T-shirt, canvas shopping bag, art canvas, pillowcase, makeup bag), freezer paper (at the grocery store near the wax paper), iron and ironing board, small scissors (or an X-acto knife) and a flat surface (a rubber mat or cutting board works well), a piece of cardboard, fabric paint and paintbrush.
Before you begin, wash, without fabric softener, any washable or wearable materials you plan to stencil. Trace an image from a magazine, draw one or find a free image online that strikes your fancy. Be sure to enlarge or reduce the image to fit the surface area.
Trace your drawn or printed image onto the matte side of the freezer paper (not the glossy side) using a pencil. Carefully cut out the stencil. Cut away every area that you want paint to show through. Save the little floating pieces throughout the design that you don't want to have to color, so you can add those back later.
Set your iron to medium heat. Place the freezer-paper stencil, glossy side down, on the item in the desired location. Iron down the main stencil, making sure it adheres to the fabric (approximately 30 seconds to a minute); gently move the iron around to prevent scorching. If you have additional floating pieces to go into the stenciled image, place those in the appropriate spot and iron.
Place the piece of cardboard under the fabric where you will be painting to ensure that the paint doesn't leak through. Using the paintbrush and either acrylic or fabric paint (non-puffy), brush a thin layer of paint onto the fabric. Go up and down and side to side to really get the paint into the weave of the fabric. Spend extra time on edges (brushing away from the edges, not toward them), points and curves to make sure everything has a nice coat. Let dry and add a second thin layer.
Depending on the paint used, it will take one hour to one day to fully dry. After it dries, peel off the freezer paper, making sure to remove any small floating pieces. Turn the iron on low and use a tea towel over the design to heat-set the paint (about two minutes).
Voila! Your stencil is set.
'Date a month' cards
Are you up for the challenge of creating 12 dates for the next year? These dates need not be elaborate, a lthough they can be, perhaps for a birthday month. Some months can simply be a dessert picnic at The Arboretum or a glass of wine by the fireplace after the kids have gone to bed. Plan something unexpected. For an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom or a busy working woman, this is priceless.
Here are a few date ideas to get you started: Play croquet in the back yard (be sure to have some favorite drinks and snacks on hand); go to Shaker Village for lunch and a tour; go see a University of Kentucky game together; hit a bucket of balls together at the driving range on a warm, sunny day; take a shopping trip to Cincinnati ... if only to window shop and enjoy the day together.