How Not To Fail At Valentine’s Day This Year: A Guide For Men

Why February 14th Is Important (Hint: It has nothing to do with cupid.)
I don’t hate snow. I might come off that way a lot and I may have even said that, but it’s not what I meant. I don’t like being cold. I don’t like driving on ice. I don’t like driving on the same roads as other people driving on ice. I don’t like standing in below zero wind chill trying to stuff my children into their safety harness in their “not-too-puffy but just puffy enough to need a readjustment” coats. I don’t like it being dark before dinner and I don’t like scraping my windshield before 7 a.m. I don’t like wet shoes, mucky carpets or slush. Other than all that, I totally dig winter. The day of our first snow the Barkeep took the boys outside to build a snow pirate. I went outside to take a picture and the snow was still sparkling white. It was sunny and warm enough to stand outside in just my sweater. If that were a true Midwestern winter day I would welcome it with open arms and an open heart. It was a freak of nature brought on by global warming. It was a tease. That was December. It’s February now and I am officially over winter, snow, ice and scraping my windows. I’m day dreaming about road trips and a dry yard for the children to run in while I soak in the sun.

I’m convinced that this is the true purpose of Valentine’s Day. Winter needs plenty of holidays to break up the monotony and misery. I may not leave the house between mid-November and March if it weren’t for delicious turkey, Christmas shopping and fancy dates with wine and chocolate.

Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day is the official holiday of high expectations and disappointment. Our expectations are set high by the industries that profit from them but their marketing teams are selling women an idea while selling men a tangible item. We want both. (Speaking in general terms. I realize we all want something different. Don’t email me. Seriously.) I have a word of advice for women with high expectations that will eliminate most chances for disappointment. I can’t say all, because, let’s be honest with ourselves and each other, some of us have terrible taste in partners. He might be a jerk and there is nothing I can do for that. But for the rest of you, my advice is simple: Just tell him what you want. Do not hint. Do not suggest. Do not simply hope he knows. He doesn’t. Not because he’s a jerk but because he is a man. (Don’t email me. I don’t care how awesome your husband is or that he buys you the exact perfect gift every time. I’m speaking in general.) Tell him what you want. Cut the picture out of a magazine. Write it down. Make the reservations yourself. Set a reminder on his phone. Let him know what you want, when you want it and that it matters to you. If he still doesn’t deliver… that is another blog for another day. My condolences.

The Gift Guide
Results will very based on the female you are trying to woo, and the first step to gift giving is thinking about the recipient.  When they say, “it’s the thought that counts,”  that does not mean, the thought of buying a generic gift at the last minute. It means putting thought in to what your Valentine cherishes and carefully picking a gift based on that. Some girls may not want any of the typical gifts. I asked to go see A Good Day To Die Hard for Valentine’s Day this year. One year I asked to see Friday The 13th. Think before you buy, craft or book.

Flowers: When buying flowers for your Valentine consider her décor, her style and her favorite colors. A dozen roses is a romantic touch. but perhaps she’d like something with a little more personality. There are so many types and colors and possibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask the florist for suggestions, but be prepared with information about what the recipient likes.

Candy/Food: First of all, is she on a diet? Forty to fifty percent of Americans make dieting a New Year’s resolution, so keep that in mind. Is there Lean Cuisine in the freezer? More celery in the fridge than usual? Did she order a salad for dinner? Skip the candy. If not, you can’t go wrong. Candy is awesome.

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Speaking of awesome, for our first Valentine’s Day, the Barkeep made me a veggie lasagna. Can you cook? Then save the candy for dessert. Edible arrangements are also a fun gift. Cute cupcakes. Homemade cookies. Think outside the heart shaped box. She will appreciate it. If you have kids, keep in mind she might actually want to eat some of the deliciousness by herself without hiding in the bathroom or making anyone cry. Buy them their own, or better yet, give her some alone time with her chocolates.

Jewelry: I have to admit this one is beyond my expertise. I like jewelry from the clearance rack at Target, the stuff so big and sparkly no one else will wear it so I get it 70% off. I did have a beautiful diamond necklaces from the Barkeep that I lost somewhere in the house. Sometimes when I get home from the bar my jewelry makes me feel claustrophobic and I start taking it off as I walk in the door, leaving a sparkly trail behind me. So, expensive jewelry is maybe not the best idea for me. We have three cats that also like sparkles and whisk them away to the playland that is our basement, never to be seen again.  I enlisted the help of some female friends and it turns out I’m not the only one who shouldn’t own something that cost a car payment unless it is the size of a car. Other important tips: Check her jewelry box, does she prefer gold or silver? Does she have any allergies? If you want her to wear it everyday you should tone it down so it’s more versatile. If it’s only for special occasions it can be a bit more fun/colorful/fabulous.

Perfume/Smelly Goodness: First, check her perfume stash. Is she almost out of something? That means she likes it. Tell a sales associate what she prefers and see if they have suggestions, or if she is really almost out just buy her more. Does she even have a stash? Maybe, like me, she prefers scented lotions. I used to have a slight obsession with Bath and Body Works until I discovered Etsy. And then this happened.

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That is not food, boys, that is a selection of bath bomb cupcakes from Five Sisters Apothecary in Iowa. The most awesome thing about 5SA in my oh so humble opinion is the Batsmoke line of products. If your Valentine is also a mother she wants needs Batsmoke. Bath goodies are one way to give her the gift of relaxation, but don’t stop there. Clean while she pampers herself. Take care of any the tedious chores that usually fall on her list.

Stuffed Animals: You get away with this once. There better be flowers or jewelry attached. Or cash. Or your Valentine better be sixteen.

Those are just the most common tangible gifts given for Valentine’s Day. That list is not complete and should not be the basis for a “but the author of that blog you like said” argument. Just in case, I interviewed a group of exceptional women, the kind any man would be lucky to call his Valentine, and we compiled a list of both common and unique gifts that are both store bought and intangible.

Behold. the list:

  • tattoos
  • live music
  • The Book of Mormon (in the theatre, not that actual book), or any other live performance
  • a clean house (I cannot stress how many times this was mentioned.)
  • pedicure/manicure (any other fun thing we can’t afford for ourselves makes a great gift)
  • spa day
  • massage
  • get my hair done
  • a good book (and time to read it)
  • ipad/tablet/kindle
  • steak or lobster dinner (meals we can’t usually afford, Vday is a good excuse to splurge)

Actual quotes from real (amazing) women, about what they really want:

“Something from Tiffany’s. They have cheaper gifts. Goddess I’d love to get one of those blue boxes.”

“Pick a movie you know we’ll both watch, or a Wii game or something.”

“I’m big on pampering and having stuff done that I usually do. Heaven is “you go shopping all day” and coming home to dinner and a clean house. Or a bath drawn. Or the kids at my parents and candlelight pizza. Being allowed to sleep in. Paint my toenails. Brush my hair out. Arrange a date night down to the sitter and stay home with a fire and a movie and take out. A break from responsibility.”

“On the tangible gift side- pjs. Gift cert for my hair guy, day spa, or Sephora. Jewelry is good- it lasts. A new purse. Sex toys.”

“Never underestimate the power of coming home to a clean house. When [My Husband] cleans the house, I melt. It really sets the tone for a romantic evening in. I don’t look around at clothes and pop cans strewn about. It’s much sexier for him to strip off my clothes and toss them to the side if they land on a clean floor as opposed to a landing on a random pile of kid toys. It’s hotter if our primal sexiness is what is messing up the house.  It’s a simple, cheap gesture that goes a long way.”

“Arrange the kids to go to his mothers so we can sleep in, be romantical, I can pamper myself with a pedicure while they’re gone and not feel guilty about not waking up with them when he does, make me dinner, do some household chores (i.e. the garbage).”

“[My Husband] has been making an elaborate amazing candlelit meal for the last few years and I love the thought he puts into it. Usually dinner is followed by massage. I bought him a tool box and I’m sure I’ll massage him too. The good kind with oil and followed by sex.”

“Remind them about the flowers for no reason too. It can be just one. It doesn’t have to be expensive.”

“So I would have to say chocolate – the good stuff and “hey honey I paid the phone/cable/water bill” would be awesome.”

“‘Honey I took care of all the bills this month’ would garner him all sorts of things he loves in the bedroom. Mostly cause me doing it involves taking 3 kids out to do it…”

“I would like some me time. If he could make everyone disappear, including himself for a lil bit and give me some gas money to go somewhere and take pictures or something, that would be awesome.”

After that these beautiful insights the conversation quickly dissolved into “I like cheese” and “I like bread” so I will spare you the rest of the quotes, but girls like food, too, buy us some.

I am not including a list of gift ideas for men, because seriously, we’ve got this.

Thank you to the beautiful women of SIA for their inspiration, help with jewelry shopping tips, and these quotes.

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You May Say I’m A Dreamer

I’m generally content with myself. This makes a lot of people angry. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge my faults, trust me, I know what they are. I’m kind of a dork. I don’t like to clean. When I get hurt I complain more than the kids. I drink too much pop even though I know it’s bad for me. I never shut up about new things I’m trying. I can’t keep up with the Kardashians. I like the band Fun. I talk about myself too much. (Hello, blogger.) Possibly, one of my worst traits, at least in the eyes of some, is to be so damn content with myself in spite of all these confessions and more. Misery loves company. Trite because it’s true. I’ve been there. I’ve been wallowing in self pity, trying to invite others to my pity party, and I recognize it when I see it. That’s why most insults don’t bother me much anymore. I haven’t really developed the thick skin you’d expect being the youngest child and only girl. My brothers could probably still reduce me to tears by telling me someone paid my parents to take me away or that my hair is actually men’s butt hair and that’s why it doesn’t behave correctly when it’s wet. I’m getting a little teary eyed just thinking about it. I cried watching Special Agent Oso the other day because he was alone for the holidays. I’m soft.

I’m also content. I know my weaknesses and my strengths, my mistakes and my triumphs and at the end of each day I know that I’m okay. My home is stable. My house is cozy. My kids are safe. My van is still moving forward and so am I. Some people like me, some people hate me and enough people love me. Just the way I am.

Happy Holidays. May they find you content, and if not, may you find contentment within yourself.

When Boys Become Heroes

My (former) Stepson leaves for basic training for the National Guard next week. (Yes, I know, just when you thought you had my family figured out I throw in another player. Get used to it, there’s more.) He’s 17 years old and for another week he is still a junior in high school and then he leaves to begin his training as a soldier.

I always thought of soldiers as men and women, never teenagers just learning to drive, girls giggling about boys, boys giggling about farts, kids playing football in the yard. Soldiers are heroes, every one of them, for the choice they made when they signed on the dotted line. Soldiers, in my mind, are not the kid I just stopped buying Pokemon cards for not that damn long ago.

As I wrestle with this dichotomy I realize my own parents must have, too. My Oldest Brother is a Marine. I have only vague memories of the time right before he left for basic training and they are most likely skewed by time and my own ideas. I don’t remember being upset that he was leaving or fearing for his safety. I was probably only 12, though. When you are 12 and come from a safe home in a safe environment you tend to assume the world is safe. It still seems strange to me, though, that I have no memory of my parents’ reactions or emotions during this time. As an adult, I find that I am intuitive and empathetic. Was I dense as a child or just wrapped up in my own little world? Probably both.

I do remember conversations on our kitchen phone and a letter he sent. He liked Guns-N-Roses and wondered if I did, too and wanted to know if I could send him some of the books I lifted from the school because he wanted to read everything. I remember that his visits home were always a “big deal” and he looked different every time we saw him. And I remember that suddenly my parents were worried about a possible war and I was probably 15 by then and war was something that only happened in history books and the background of Mash. I can tell you so much about 15, what kind of clothes I wore, parties by the boat docks, the notebook my friends and I passed, the fights we had, the trouble I got into, but I can tell you very little about Desert Storm.

My brother was deployed to Saudi Arabia and it might as well have been Narnia, to me. He was still very far away, just in a different far away place. CNN was on night and day at our house. I wasn’t doing much to make anything easier on my parents, I know that. My Middle Older Brother went to University and that left just Youngest Older Brother and me at home and I’m pretty sure we were both ridiculously naughty for the entire year.

It was some time during that year, though, that I started to pay attention. I still wasn’t worried but I was starting to form opinions, such as, my brother should come home immediately because war is dark and ugly and bad. I think this was my mother’s doing. She had a notebook with poems she wrote as a teenager and newspaper clipping of friends that didn’t make it home from Vietnam. (Note to self: Ask mom if that actually existed or if my memory is skewed yet again.) If our home had a soundtrack of the year it would be Bob Dylan and The Beatles and the steady drone of CNN in the background. You can’t help but form opinions under those conditions.

I have my opinions. I would not choose the military for Stepson, but it was his choice and I am proud of him. It was expected. Everyone he looks up to, including his father, my ex-husband, is or was in the military. It was not a surprise. It was only a surprise that the idea “someday he will join the military” suddenly became the reality that he is leaving next week.

I worry now. It started when Oldest Brother was no longer in danger. His time in Saudi Arabia was over, he was back to Hawaii and would be home soon, this time for good. A “big deal” was scheduled and everything was a celebration. That is when I started to worry, not about the dangers of war, but that something else would happen and he would not make it home, something more realistic than a war, like a car crash or a mugging or some freak accident. I’m an adult now and I don’t need to channel my fears into something more realistic. I have no problem worrying about the most far-fetched of possibilities, let alone the very real danger of joining the military in troubled times.

I always thought of soldiers as men and women, not teenagers just barely older than I was when I could not grasp the reality of war. But they almost all start that way, as kids, not even old enough to drink legally, but prepared to serve their country in any way necessary.

That is the thought I want to leave you with this Memorial Day. We grill out, we swim, we gather with friends and we do it all under the protection of our armed forces, the sons and daughters of our friends and family.

Do not forget.