Valentine’s Day. The first observed holiday to follow the biggest, most important Christian holiday of the year. Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the similarities shared by both?

The color red–Santa’s suit and valentines; poinsettias and roses

Both have roots in Christianity, but those roots seem to take a back seat to the celebratory spirit of the date.

Both are named after a saint, albeit St. Valentine’s Day was named after a martyr saint.

Christmas and Valentine’s Day were initially celebrated in the name of someone who was executed.

Winged figures flying around in the air. Angels strum harps, Cupid shoots arrows through hearts.

Candy is strongly associated with both. So is a special meal.

Gifts, or at the very least, cards,  are expected from loved ones.

Mass consumerism has taken over the original meaning of both days.

valentine card

I remember in elementary school, we were expected to make a Valentine’s box to display on Valentine’s day. I would wrap a shoe box, one that had been saved just for this occasion, in red paper. Then I would painstakingly glue little candy hearts and cut-outs on it. As a perfectionist, my box had to be unequaled. I spent hours putting the finishing touches on what was to be the the bomb of all v-day boxes. A rectangular slot was cut along the top so that anybody that wanted to could put a little card inside. valentine shoe boxMom once suggested that I simply cover a Kleenex box with tissue paper. “The opening is already there. It’s so much simpler.” Hell would freeze over before I would stoop so low as to to allow future husbands to put their declarations of love in a freaking snot-rag container!

The best cards were the ones that had a heart-shaped sucker attached.  Even better if your 4th grade crush signed it “love”. I would wait until I got home to lift the lid off my box and read the cards, in the privacy of my bedroom. Even though each kid got a valentine from every other kid in the class, just seeing the name of the one you secretly admired was the making of grade-school fantasies.

By middle school, Valentine’s Day became a popularity contest, with girls congregating in the bathroom or at lunchtime to compare who-got-what-from-whom. Being popular with the boys, I often had several heart-shaped boxes of Brachs chocolates bestowed upon me. I once received an anonymous box of chocolate-covered cherries. I still don’t know who gave them to me, but honestly, I think I’m one of the  few people on earth who actually loves them! (Ditto fruitcake at Christmastime.)

Now that HK and I have been married for 21 years (!), I don’t expect anything. Not flowers, not special chocolate, not dinner in a fancy restaurant. I would much rather have a nice bottle of wine in front of a cozy fireplace, snuggled with HK and our 3 pups. I know that the “reason for the season” is love, and seriously, isn’t that what it’s all about?.

all you need is love

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RIP

Yesterday I was taken by surprise-shocked, really-when a friend called to let me know that a friend and neighbor of ours had been killed in a tragic accident.

Let me preface this by saying that this person that died wasn’t what I would consider a “close” friend, not someone I would call on the phone to chat or enjoy family-style dinner with, but a friend that always greeted me with a warm hug and a kiss, and genuinely showed interest in how and what I was doing.

I’ll call him John, because that was his name.

John was a central figure in our Atlanta neighborhood. He and his wife were the first people HK and I met when we moved here 15 years ago. They encouraged us to get involved in neighborhood activities, of which there are plenty, and his was always a welcoming face in the crowd.

John’s generosity was phenomenal. He volunteered countless hours for events here and in the community. We regularly passed him and his wife, who often walked hand in hand, in our neighborhood park, on their way to or from feeding the ducks.

I have not been able to erase his smiling face from my mind since I heard the news, not that I want to, anyway, but the thought of not seeing that smile, feeling that warmth, greatly and deeply saddens me. As with probably everyone that knew him, I can’t believe he’s gone. It wasn’t his time. It wasn’t our time to lose such a selfless man. I’m sure he knows that he took a little piece of our hearts with him when he left this world.

The fact that no one, and especially his wife, got the opportunity to say goodbye to him is a real gut-punch. And a reminder to me to let those that I care about know that they are special. Tell loved ones that you love them. More importantly, SHOW them that you love them. You never know when it may be too late.

With love,

Jules

When I first learned that the book “Eat, Pray, Love” was being made into a movie, I was soooo not interested. However, my reasons for actually dishing out $7.50 for the matinee price to see it were threefold:

1. I wanted some “girl time” w/ my friend, and it was the only movie we could both agree on.

2. As the European travel editor over at BellaOnline.com, I wanted to do a movie review.

3. It’s hot as shit outside–movie theaters are nice and chilly!

Let me preface this by letting you in on the fact that I did not like the book. I liked the premise of soul-searching after a life crisis, especially one involving exotic travel, but I felt Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the book, was totally self-absorbed and turned what could have been a beautiful adventure of self-realization into a whiny, rich-girl spa vacation. Wallowing in self-pity (divorce, failed love affair–whaaa.…) Liz decides to take 1 year sabbatical  divided neatly into 3 parts, beginning in Italy, where she will experience pleasure (read: self indulgence).  Julia Roberts plays the lead character, and I find it hard to feel pity for the dazzling beauty. Had she been rode hard and hung up wet, it may have stirred more emotion.

Next up is an ashram in India, where she devotes herself to finding spirituality. She befriends a crusty Texan and a reluctant Indian bride, both of whom have lessons to share, although you get the feeling that Liz wasn’t paying attention.  When she leaves, she has supposedly become enlightened, but it isn’t clear how that came to be. Was it the henna tattooed elephant?  Her duty to play a bubbly tour guide to an incoming group of devotees?

Ultimately, Liz ends up in Indonesia where she believes the perfect balance will magically illuminate her life.  Instead of allowing life to unfold as it may, Liz continues to control not only her experiences, but to “allow” the audience to see inside her over- indulgent mind. It seemed to me that any time the possibility of an “ah-ha” moment was afforded her, she turned it back to herself and made it, once again, all about her. UGH!  It’s  as if she expects her personal insights to become the universal truth, which, frankly, comes across as a bit patronizing.

Personally (and this comes from the social-worker inside me), I would rather have heard the gritty, real, fucked-up parts of herself that she keeps hidden well below the surface. The movie (and book) focus more on Liz’s magical year of exotic travel, never scratching the surface of human suffering.  Depressed? Looking for answers? Life not unfolding  quite as you hoped it would?  Run way for a year and gorge yourself on spaghetti and sexy men, and life will turn out fine. Just fine.

Hell, give me a nice advance to write a memoir while I take a year for self indulgence, and I’ll come up with a book, as well. And I guarantee it’ll have more substance than E,P,L.

Crazy, man!

This weekend, HK and I went to the (close eyes, deep breath, shoulders down, un-clench jaw) mall.  God, it was painful, but had to do it. There was something specific that a certain unnamed someone wanted, so we got up early to beat the crowds.  Yeah, right.  As you may or may not know, going to the mall makes me crazy, and I always swear I’m not going back. But, inevitably, I do go back for some reason, and regret it all over again.

OK, so here’s the kicker. The little something-something that I bought ended-up being the wrong thing, so now I’m gonna have to go back and exchange it.  Shit!

What am I getting at, besides bitching about mall-hell? Just this.  With the holidays upon us, the economy sucking wind, and free-time at an all-time low, let’s consider other options.  Like what?  Well, for example, giving the gift of life, by making a donation to a charity.  Last year about this time I posted a blog with a great list of charitable contributions   that you can give in someone’s name.  Please take a look at the link and come back. I’ll be right here when you get back.

My favorite charity is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, but I also now like World Vision a lot.  You can donate as much or as little as you like. Examples at World Vision include a family fishing kit for an impoverished family for $40.  Add to that 2 baby chickens for $65 total. Hmmm..fish for food/harvest your own eggs?  Feed the hungry.  I likeee!  How about spending $50.00 to stock a school in Africa with $700 worth of supplies?? Anywhere from $35-$250 will help free the lives of sexually exploited girls.  Get my drift?

Or how about going a little more local and purchasing a craft or something from someone in your hometown or at a local farmers market?  If you live in Atlanta, check out the gift baskets at Peak of Perfection, a one-woman show who makes relishes, condiments, pie fillings, etc from 100% local produce? (check out her facebook page at Peak of Perfection.)   How about helping out a group of Bhutanese refugees who have been resettled to Atlanta? They make unique baskets out of kudzu vines  (click for the link) !!   BetsyGoddess has gorgeous and very sensual hand-made leather items and jewelry. (i got one of my favorite bracelets from her.)  Want to get rebates on your online purchases? Check out Mo Brock’s site.   Or simply make a donation to your local animal rescue.  

Peak of Perfection basket

Of course, something from your own kitchen is always a lovely treat. Better yet, share a meal with someone you care about. Let them know how you feel about them. Because what it really all boils down to is LOVE, and isn’t that the best gift of all?