Love, Life and Valentine’s Day

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Do you feel the love in the air? At the McMurtry’s home, February means celebrating Valentine’s Day and our wedding anniversary.

This year for our anniversary, we are visiting the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City. The museum has one the foremost collections of Monet in the world.

Paintings by favorite artists include Beauguereau, Delacroix, Carravaggio, Cassatt and many others.

We will enjoy Kansas City’s local legend and original barbecue at Arthur Bryant’s.

We have a tradition of touring art museums for our anniversary; from the Getty in Los Angeles, Utah Museum of Fine Art, Brigham Young University’s Art Musem to the San Diego Museum of Art.

For our 25th anniversary trip to Europe where we visited the Globe, the Tates, British Museum, the Louvre, art museums in Scotland, the Academie and others in Florence, and many other inspirational collections.

This February we will be in the heartland of the USA and will see the Midwest’s prize collection of international art that includes Monet paintings from collections in Paris and other international pieces which we will talk about soon.



            Red is an invigorating and passionate color, and it is the signature hue of Valentine’s Day. In the midst of winter, when the heavy gray aura of the frigid sky is becoming dreary, bright red modern Valentine’s Day arrives with loving and giving, surprises and fun.

            It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the holiday. There may have been several Saint Valentines in the Second and Third Centuries. One was a Roman bishop that married soldiers to their sweethearts before they went off to war, which was against the laws of ancient Rome. From his prison cell but sent notes to friends, signed “Your Valentine.” There is reason to believe that the earliest meaning of Valentine’s Day was more about sacrifice than romantic love.

Love in History

            Our medieval ancestors had favorite rituals and traditions for the holiday. It was believed that birds selected their mates on February 14th, and mankind followed, making this the favorite day for marriage. Great halls were perfumed with bowls filled with rosewater, crushed rosemary, basil, bay leaves, marjoram and yarrow. Incense of pine and laurel released a sweet, pungent fragrance. Love lanterns were carved like smiling jack-o-lanterns from turnips, and other vegetables and fruit. Candles glowed within, filling the hall with affectionate lights.

            Superstition and divinations abounded, as guests questioned where, with whom and when they would find love. Enameled or fabric red hearts were worn as an accessory, a visual sign that the wearer was devoted to love: the idea of love, the God of love or the Saint of love, Saint Valentine. Some wore the symbol of infinity, a sideways 8, representing eternal love. This “love knot” was sometimes accompanied by a crowned “A” representing the phrase “Amor vincent omnia” or “love conquers all,” which also constituted the words of a toast later on. A “chivaree” or concert devoted to stirring passion, was played. For centuries this practice was woven into the wedding celebrations of many cultures.            

Strengthening Your Family Through Love and Service

            Most couples have their own loving rituals. Whether a romantic evening is on your mind or fun with your family, there are many ways to demonstrate your love at Valentine’s Day. In his book The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman describes the actions and activities we do to help people feel loved. Whether it’s quality time, gifts or a backrub; it is a good idea to have your special people identify their love language so you can do for them what is truly important to them. Remember the Platinum Rule “Do unto others as they would like to have done unto them.” If my husband showed up with a gift for me of Boston Celtics tickets I’d wonder if he’d flipped, I’d much rather have a pot of red tulips or a red plaid handbag. If I gifted him the Celtics tickets or offered a good foot massage, he’d think he’d died and gone to heaven.

            My sister packs elaborate Valentine lunches for her family with love notes tucked inside. There are heart-shaped sandwiches, red fruit juice, valentine cookies and fruit cups.

As they unpack their creative meal, they are instantly reminded of their mother’s love. Here is Cindy’s Valentine’s Day lunch menu, she says…

“I try to keep the food in Valentine colors except for the fruit.” In their special bag they find:

 a heart-shaped sandwich

pink and white heart-shaped pasta salad with shredded parmesan, ham, and minced white onion

a fruit cup with a cut out heart strawberry on top

chocolate-dipped strawberries

heart-shaped rice crispy treat or sugar cookies

white cupcake and frosting with red sprinkles and red heart shaped lollipop stuck in the    center

small bag of foil chocolates

heart shaped crackers with a flavored cream cheese spread

white popcorn

pink, red, or purple juice box – usually frozen to keep everything cold

“…and a love note.”

Nursery Love

My grandmother Vada Webb Layton taught me to spell I love you by reading my Raggedy Ann’s heart.

Raggedy Ann and Andy, two little rag dolls, have “I love you” hearts printed or stitched right on their little fabric bodies. Their creator, Johnny Gruelle, wrote stories about their friendships in the nursery and their adventures helping others. Raggedy Ann watched over the nursery and was a hero for every little girl who made sure her toys were tucked under a blanket, all warm and cozy, before climbing into bed for the night. If you can find the original stories, they’re entertaining and filled with charitable values.


Make shortbread cookies, shaped like envelopes with a red glitter heart and placed in cellophane bags with a few heart-shaped candies and tie onto neighbors’ doorknobs; or invite them over for a red heart bowl of ice cream and raspberry heart cookies.

A simple way to show love is to cut-out colorful paper hearts. Give each family member several. Write on them things you like about each other and display them near the bedroom door of that family member or all together on a wall.

Create a quilt for a shut-in or wounded soldier.


Hug a tree: After Christmas, leave a small potted or artificial tree up, cover it in love notes and hearts

Xs and Os: make glittery cardboard X and O letters or find them after after Christmas or in alphabet letter collections – hang on ribbons on the mirror, on a curtain, place on the table

Make wreaths from pliable twigs and after-Christmas artificial branches with berries. Be      creative – anything round and pliable can be formed into a heart shape, this thrifted beautiful, beaded candle ring was a circle and is now a heart.

Hang garlands of Valentines from ribbons in doorways and windows

Red roses are at a premium this holiday – if you like red tulips or another flower, ask for those instead.

When my daughter sent me a beautiful floral arrangement for my late-December birthday, I saved the greens after the flowers faded. For Valentine’s Day, I added glitter hearts on sticks from Hobby Lobby. We just started a new writer’s group, and these were displayed near our snack table.

Float herbs and candles in rosewater for a scented, romantic glow.

Sweet Music and Art

            Play Pachelbel’s Canon in D and other love songs for your family, there are all kinds of beautiful, suites that stir loving feelings. Buy a few, set up a few online accounts or check the library for new CDs

            The following stories have a strong friendship theme and are wonderful exemplars for teaching loyalty and selflessness: Raggedy Ann and Andy stories (Simon and Schuster), The Wind in the Willows, Winnie The Pooh

Borrow the theme of a Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland and host a Galentine’s tea party.

Life Imitates Art

A study performed by UCLA and the University of Rochester found that newlywed couples who watched romantic comedies together and talked about them afterwards had rates of marital success about equal to couples participating in intensive counseling programs.[1] So apparently “hanging out” couples in love, even if they are only make-believe, is good for your relationship. Who doesn’t enjoy being around a couple in love?

           I conducted my own unscientific, biased survey asking respondents for their favorite romance movie picks, and these were the adjusted results (G – PG-13 only) from about 265 responses.

Top choices and the number of votes received. Disclaimer: I have not seen all of them so I cannot vouch for their appropriateness or artistic merit. I did put an asterisk by the ones I love.

*While You Were Sleeping (19)

Somewhere in Time (18)

The Notebook (15)

*Pride and Prejudice (13) especially the version with Colin Firth (swoon).

*The Princess Bride (12)

*Ever After (11)

*You’ve Got Mail (11)

*The Scarlet Pimpernel (didn’t have over 10 votes but the fans were wildly profuse in its praise)

      The remainder of the nominated movies; grab a tissue and box of chocolates and some cheese (best comfort food)  girls and guys and prepare for a media lovefest…

A Walk in the Clouds, A Walk to Remember, Always, An Affair to Remember, An American in Paris, Anne of Avonlea, The Beautician and the Beast, Beauty and the Beast, Bed of Roses, Casablanca, Charade, Charley, Cinderella, Circus World , Clueless, The Cutting Edge, Dan in Real Life, Dances With Wolves, Dear John, Dr. Zhivago, Ella Enchanted, Emma, Enchanted, Ever After, Family Man, 50 First Dates, French Kiss, Ghost, Ghost Town, The Glass Bottom Boat, Gone With The Wind, The Goodbye Girl, Grease, Heaven Can Wait, Hello Dolly, Hiding Out, Hitch, The Holiday, Hope Floats, Jane Austin, Just Like Heaven, Kate and Leopold, A Knight’s Tale, Labor Day, Lady Hawk, Lake House, Leap Year, Legally Blond, Letters to Juliette, Lorna Doone, Love and Basketball, Love Story, Maid in Manhattan, Maid of Honor, Mamma Mia, Man From Snowy River, Meet Joe Black, Message in a Bottle, Miracle on 34th Street, Miss Potter, Moulin Rouge, My Best Friend’s Wedding, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, My Fair Lady, Never Been Kissed, North and South (British), The Notebook, Notting Hill, On Golden Pond, Only You, The Other Side of Heaven, Out of Africa, The Parent Trap1and 3, Penelope, The Phantom of the Opera, The Philadelphia Story, Pretty in Pink, Pride and Prejudice, The Prince of Persia, The Princess Bride, The Princess Diaries, The Proposal, P.S. I Love You, Pure Country, Return to Me, Romancing the Stone, That Thing You Do, The Runaway Bride, Sabrina, Safe Haven, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sense and Sensibility, Serendipity, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Shadowlands, Sissi, Sleepless in Seattle, Somewhere in Time, Sweet Home Alabama, Superman, Ten Things I Hate About You, Titanic, The Tourist, The Vow, Two Weeks’ Notice, The Wedding Singer, West Side Story, What’s Up Doc?, White Christmas, Wives and Daughters, Your Foolish Heart, You’ve Got Mail

[1] American Psychological Association, Is skills training necessary for the primary prevention of marital distress and dissolution? A 3-year experimental study of three interventions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 81(6), Dec 2013, 949-961.

Games and Activities

Musical Hearts

            Write each participant’s name on 2 red hearts, fold in half. Put one of each in a container and as the music plays, have everyone pass the other notes around the circle. When the music stops, draw one name out of the container – announce the name. That person opens the heart in their hand and tells something they like or love about the person on the heart. Play again and again and again.


            Create a Let me count the ways/ reasons we fell in love and why we stay there book together.

I Love You bookmark

            Fold a 2” x 6” printed scrapbook paper in half so it measures 1”x 6”. Along the folded edge cut half of a capital I, half of a heart and half of a U. Put a small picture behind the heart and using a glue stick attach the scrapbook paper to a 2 ½” x 6 ½” backing paper. Laminate and trim.


Punxsutawney Phil promised an early spring. If you are enjoying a lovely thaw or are in a sunny place, head outdoors for a ray of sunshine and a few games. Not to be fooled, these giant shuttlecocks are the art of Claes Oldenburg. Normal-sized ones are in the sporting goods section of your favorite store.


            A week or two before Valentine’s Day, sit down as a family one evening or on a Sunday to create Valentines for each other; don’t forget Grandmas and Grandpas! Hang them on a small tree to use for a centerpiece or other decor. To have a Loveland postmark on mailed Valentines, send your stamped cards in a package to


                                    Attn: Valentines, USPS

                                    Loveland, CO  80538-9998

Make Art

Grab your stash of vintage scrapbook paper and stickers and create a shadow box and paper fan. I used an old frame and covered the picture inside with vintage prints, lightweight mementos and stickers, then hung it with a paper fan.

Dog Tags       

            One of the moms in my son’s Newport Beach kindergarten class gave metal Valentines with each child’s name stamped on it – cute.

Have dog tags made with each child’s name and an I LOVE YOU imprint

            Place love notes around the house – bathroom mirror, in backpacks and lunchboxes, on the doorway on the steering wheel…if you’re artistic, draw cartoons on the notes.

            Create large sparkly Xs and Os, or purchase at a craft store. Place in a vellum (transparent) envelope to mail to loved ones.

            I Love You coupon book – print thoughtful gestures on scrapbook paper (I’ll wash your car, you pick the movie, I’ll make your favorite dessert, good for a girl’s/guy’s night out…) Tie together and give to the lucky recipient.

Give someone a heart attack – I mean tape paper hearts to their front, or office door. Especially sweet for a neighbor or your bishop or pastor.


I Love You Breakfast

            Heart waffles with strawberries and whipped cream

            Applesauce with cinnamon hearts

            Breakfast casserole of eggs, potatoes O’Brien, sausage, and cheese

Cindy’s Valentine lunches

Pizza Hearts

Sweetheart Dinner

            Beef Stroganoff over noodles

            Spinach and Strawberry salad

            Cinnamon (heart) Rolls

            Cherry Coconut Crumble

            Sparkling Cider or punch with strawberry hearts

Strawberry Hearts

            You can’t have too many hearts on Valentine’s Day. Make Strawberry hearts by cutting a V in the top of the strawberry to remove the leaves. Cut in half or slices – hearts!

Cherry Coconut Crumble

            Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 9″ x 13″ baking pan, spread

2 cans cherry pie filling

Pour over

1 box Dolly Parton coconut cake dry mix (Duncan Hines)

Melt and drizzle over dry cake mix

3/4 C butter, melted

Add if desired

1 C pecans, chopped

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour until golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Sparkling Cider

            Pour together equal parts of

apple juice


            Serve with floating strawberry hearts

I’m trying out Substack! With more detailed content including the 14 recipes from the menu for Valentine’s Day. If you you want more – including the recipes, click here and please leave me a comment with your opinion. Thanks!

Aaaand it’s never too early to start planning for Halloween! Here’s the eBook you need to create a unique and fun autumn celebration.

A Harvest and Halloween Handbook 2 on Amazon and

And for your little ones:

Keep your little mermaids swimming in creativity and fun with A Mermade’s Tale on Amazon and


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