I ♥ myself

Who says you need asignificant other to have a good time on Valentine’s Day? There are lots of ways to celebrate love in Reno.

Photo By David Robert

Don’t look now, but the single girl’s (and guy’s) least-favorite holiday is right around the corner. Valentine’s Day is upon us, and the stores are crammed with sappy greeting cards, teddy bears clutching satin hearts and cheap bouquets of red roses. Friends with significant others are chatting about their romantic plans, and nosy relatives are asking pointedly if you’re seeing “anyone special.” Yes, disgruntled singles, from now until the 14th, no matter where you go, you’ll be seeing red … and pink.

But before you try to fashion a noose from the decorative ribbon trim on that box of chocolates you bought in a fit of self-pity, consider this: Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be just for couples. First and foremost, it’s a day to celebrate love, and even if you don’t have a date, you can still enjoy the day with your friends and family. You can even take the opportunity to make a caring gesture to a complete stranger. Check out these ideas for treating yourself and others to something special, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking Valentine’s Day isn’t so bad after all.

Me, myself and I
So you’d rather focus on yourself this Valentine’s Day? Hey, we’re not judging. There’s no need to be shy about spoiling yourself with a slightly extravagant gesture this year. You deserve it, right?

If the day of love leaves you feeling stressed, take some time for a relaxing retreat. Head to your favorite spa for a massage or a facial (and invite your unattached friends, if you’re feeling generous). Strapped for cash? You can still achieve tranquility on the cheap. Raid the dollar store for candles and bath salts. Get some magazines and head for the tub, and don’t come out until you can say, “Oh, is it Valentine’s Day? I hadn’t noticed.”

Do your cravings lean toward the culinary? Then this is the ideal excuse to try that new restaurant you’ve been curious about. Grab a friend and do a coffeehouse crawl—split a fancy dessert at each place you stop, until you’re comatose from the sugar. Or roll up your sleeves and prepare a gourmet meal at home (and yes, emptying takeout boxes onto a plate counts as “preparing").

If Valentine’s Day makes you want to leave town, turn the urge to flee into a fun getaway. The 14th falls on a Tuesday, but you can take the weekend before or afterward to hit the road and explore someplace new. Or pick up some travel books and start planning your vacation to an exotic destination.

Whatever your favorite indulgence may be, there’s no better time for treating yourself to something special. Plus, self-gifting virtually guarantees you won’t end up with a hot pink teddy bear that squeals “I love you!” when you squeeze its paw—unless you’re into that kind of thing.

My bloody Valentine
The heart is the traditional symbol of Valentine’s Day, but we rarely stop to consider the actual flesh-and-blood organ that beats in each of our chests, pumping blood tirelessly through our bodies (when things are going well). But every day, emergency-room patients in life-threatening situations need blood to survive, and the demand is almost always greater than the supply. Which is why one of the most caring (if nontraditional) gestures you can make this Valentine’s Day is donating blood.

“I can tell you how much blood we need: 35,000 units of blood a year,” says Candy Nolte of United Blood Services. “We break it down to approximately 145 daily units [pints].” However, she adds, they don’t always reach that goal and almost never have a surplus of blood. “Demand is always higher than what we estimate,” she adds.

The donation process is simple and doesn’t take long, says Nolte. “You can figure about 45 minutes to an hour,” she estimates. “Donating only takes about eight minutes—it’s the easiest part of the process.”

Giving someone a pet is like matchmaking–it doesn’t always work out. Dr. Michelle Williams, executive director of the Nevada Humane Society, says gift certificates allow people to pick out a pet they feel a special bond with. Chemistry is everything, even with puppy love.

Photo By David Robert

Although your blood can theoretically go anywhere in their network, says Nolte, you’ll most likely be helping out your own community. “Our first commitment is to the hospitals here—any of the local hospitals and also the outlying areas,” she explains. “The majority of the blood stays right here. We’re growing so fast, we have a hard enough time meeting demand here.”

On Valentine’s Day, United Blood Services will be holding their annual Sweetheart Blood Drive (sponsored in part by this paper). They’ll have food, cake and prizes for donors. “My goal is about 50 to 55 units, so we’ll shoot for 75 to 80 units that day,” Nolte says. “We’ve averaged about 75 to 80.” For more information, call 324-6454.

Even if you can’t make it to the Sweetheart Blood Drive, your blood is urgently needed year round. “Creating awareness is an obstacle that we have to overcome every day,” says Nolte. “I think a lot of people think they can’t donate because they take a certain kind of medication or they’re diabetic. They never know—it could be someone they love who needs it.”

Must love dogs
Valentine’s Day isn’t just for humans anymore. Every year, people give puppies, kittens and other pets to kids as Christmas presents. But a couple of months later, those frisky little creatures aren’t quite so adorable, and unwanted holiday pets are already starting to show up in local animal shelters.

“About 18,000 animals will become homeless this year in the Reno area,” says Dr. Michelle Williams, executive director of the Nevada Humane Society. “That includes animals that are stray, lost, dumped out or [whose] owners can no longer keep them,” she says. The majority is handled by Animal Control and other services. She estimates that the Humane Society received about 4,000 animals in 2005. “We adopted out, or otherwise found homes for, just under 2,000 animals,” she says.

Of course, adopting an animal is a serious decision. Before you decide to adopt, do some research on your prospective pet, says Williams. “Make sure that the pet will fit with your lifestyle,” she recommends. “If you’re a single person that works 18 hours a day, you don’t want a dog that requires a lot of attention and activity. … If you’re into exercise, you want something that will go out and keep up with you.”

But if you do decide to rescue an animal and give it a loving home, Williams adds, it’s a gift to yourself as well as your new companion. “When you adopt,” she says, “you do more than get a pet, you save a life.” Not only will you have a furry friend all year round, but you’re guaranteed to spend each Valentine’s Day with someone who loves you unconditionally. How many people can say that?

Saved by the bell
If being single on Valentine’s Day leaves you feeling like you’ve got a thing or two to learn, you could be right. We don’t mean you need lessons in love, of course—but there are plenty of evening and weekend classes for working adults who want to try something different. What better gift could you give yourself this year than discovering a new interest or favorite activity?

“One of the things we’ve found is that people take classes just so they can meet people with similar interests,” says Kathy Berry of TMCC’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education program. “It’s a way outside of the bar scene where you can meet people. We have meditation and fitness courses if you want to work on yourself. And the better you feel about yourself, the easier it is to get into a relationship.”

That’s not to say that students will just be studying each other, however. “People like to tap into their creative side,” Berry explains, “and since it’s not graded, people just like to come and have fun and try new things.” From belly dancing to ceramics to building a better birdhouse, there are hundreds of choices. Check local event listings, ask at your favorite stores, or search online for classes that interest you.

The benefits of taking a class can last far beyond the end of the semester. “It opens up your horizons,” says Berry. “You’re testing the waters for things that will be lifelong interests … you get the exposure, you learn some basic steps, and you realize that you can learn almost anything if you get the basic foundation.

Not using your heart on a significant other this year? Candy Nolte of United Blood Services hopes you put it to use by donating blood at the Sweetheart Blood Drive on Valentine’s Day (or anytime, for that matter).

Photo By David Robert

“Registration is easy online, and it is such a relaxed atmosphere,” Berry says. “Over and over again in our evaluations, people say this is the most fun they’ve ever had.” Fun on Valentine’s Day? It could happen.

Sealed with a kiss
Remember the elementary school version of Valentine’s Day? You’d make a construction paper basket and hang it on your chair, hoping you’d get a good haul. Your parents insisted that you had to give a card to everyone, even the gross kid who picked his nose. And the big payoff was a couple dozen Disney valentines with rolls of Smarties taped to them (if you were lucky).

This year, banish those bad memories by sending real valentines to your favorite people. For your friends, go retro with a box of kiddie valentines, then add a grownup touch with IOU coupons for a free cocktail or coffee. It’s a great chance to spend some time together and realize all over again why they’re your best pals.

Next, pull out all the holiday cards you got a couple months ago from relatives you rarely hear from throughout the year. Why not sit down and write them real letters, instead of waiting until next December to hastily scribble out another generic greeting? Chances are, hearing from you will make their day, and you may even strike up a regular correspondence. As added incentive, older relatives will probably be able to give you some good dirt on your parents’ wild years. A word of warning: Your great-grandpa may not find your He-Man valentines as amusing as you do. Choose your selections wisely.

Flower power
Sure, you could blow a ton of bucks having red roses delivered to yourself from your fictitious secret admirer. But with a little more effort and a lot less cash, you can plant your own flowers, even if you’re not exactly known for your green thumb.

“Violets are always a fun one because they don’t take a lot of care,” recommends Jeri Schneider, greenhouse bedding manager at Moana Nursery. “If you put them in a self-watering pot, they’re virtually care-free. And they do re-bloom throughout the year.” Even apartment dwellers can find a place for the petite flowers, she says.

Miniature roses sell well around Valentine’s Day, says Schneider, but there’s a catch: once the tiny, colorful flowers die, the plants often don’t bloom again. “It’s hard to get them to bloom again indoors,” she says. “But [if you] set them out on the balcony, that will help.”

For people with commitment issues, there’s another option. “If they want to be really extravagant to themselves, we have the Plant of the Month Club,” Schneider adds. “They get a pretty cache pot, and they’ll get a blooming plant every month—this month is flowering bulbs.”

Soon, there may be an even more indulgent choice. “[There’s] a day spa across the street from us,” she says, “and we’re trying to set up a thing where you not only get a flower arrangement but also a facial or other spa treatment.” Throw in a box of truffles, and you’ve basically got the best present ever.

Like water for chocolate
OK, so those crusty, leaky, chocolate-covered cherries are right up there with fruitcake on the list of nasty holiday foods. And heart-shaped candy boxes are too depressing to even consider. But you don’t have to go the mass-produced, plastic-wrapped route to enjoy sweet treats, says Tauma Noel, owner of the Candy Connection.

“It’s very, very easy,” says Noel, who has owned the store for 24 years. “We do one-hour candy demos, which is how I got started.” For $10, you can attend a one-hour demonstration that teaches basic techniques; they hold classes every Saturday before most major holidays, including Valentine’s Day. “We tell them, ‘Have something on your stomach beforehand,'” she explains, “because whatever we make, they’ll be sampling. Usually, they’ll start out making nut clusters, peanut butter cups and solid suckers, [which] are pretty easy.”

Take that which is broken, and eat it in chocolate form. Or throw it against a wall.

Photo By David Robert

For aspiring confectioners wanting to make Valentine’s candies, Noel recommends a few basic recipes. “Take [melted] chocolate and dip pretzels in, and put sprinkles on top, like red nonpareils or pink hearts. Marshmallows on a stick, fresh fruits … it’s a real simple process. It’s just melting it down and dipping it or pouring into molds.” Just be careful to buy chocolate designed for melting. “Chocolate chips are a baking chocolate and were never made to melt down for candy,” she warns.

The Candy Connection also sells ready-made candies, so you can also buy a custom assortment of chocolates and fudge—and even pass them off as homemade, if your conscience permits. That’s between you and Cupid.

The joy luck club
Like it or not, your mom/grandma/maiden aunt is right about at least one thing: If you’re interested in meeting new people, one of the best ways is to join a club. Jennifer Benedict, vice-president of membership for the Reno Active 20-30 Club No. 8, agrees. “We are both a civic and social club for people aged 20 to 39,” she explains. “We help children in need, while also holding frequent social and networking activities.”

The 20-30 Club sponsors a variety of charitable events in the community. They host annual shopping sprees for kids who need clothing and school supplies, and volunteer with children at Echo Loder Elementary. “We hold an annual Putt-Fore-Kids fundraiser, which includes miniature golf, dinner and a silent auction, and we participate in other smaller events throughout the year,” says Benedict.

They also get together just for fun—from white-water rafting trips and weekend camping trips at Tahoe to the annual Fourth Street Pub Crawl, which benefits the 20-30 Club. Other group activities include skiing, snowboarding and playing poker.

“It really is the perfect organization for young professionals,” says Benedict of her club, “because you are able to help local children in need while also participating in frequent social activities. We are a fun, relaxed group of friends who love meeting new people and enjoy having a good time.” Translation: You’ll be having so much fun, you’ll forget that Mom was right about “getting out more.”

The Valentine’s Day … party
Feeling social? Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to throw a party, especially if you hate the holiday. Just ask George Lemos, 56, who’s been throwing anti-Valentine’s Day parties in the Bay Area for several years.

"[It] started out as a bunch of single guys in a pub,” he explains, “complaining about what a big deal they make about Valentine’s Day.” The next year, Lemos and his friends threw their first party at a local bar. Decorating with dead flowers set a suitably unromantic mood. “We had a DJ, and we picked out a lot of [karaoke] songs—blues, ‘I lost my baby,’ that kind of stuff,” he says. “We tried to keep it really up, with a fun atmosphere.”

Lemos’s parties attracted fairly large crowds, he says. “The first year, it was probably about 60 people, mostly guys,” he says. “The following year, I made sure to invite some women, and we got about a hundred people.” Lemos believes that part of his parties’ appeal is the lack of romantic pressure. “It opens up a conversation,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for a guy to make the first move without looking dumb.”

Lemos probably won’t throw a party this year—having moved to Carson City just last month, he’s still settling in. But it seems at least one other local single is ready to carry on the tradition. “Let’s all get together somewhere!” says Rachael Black, 44, owner of Damned Games. “Let’s post on Craigslist … we need to set up a place for all of us to meet who are single.”

Black, a lifelong hater of Valentine’s Day, says she usually spends the day ignoring the phone and watching the goriest horror flicks she can find. “A slasher movie would pretty much sum up my feelings,” she chuckles. Though she calls it a “distressing, maudlin holiday,” Black hasn’t given up hope for a truly romantic Valentine’s Day someday. “I dream that there will be happy Valentine’s Days in the future,” she says. “This one, I dread.”

But back to the party. “I don’t know what [Craigslist category] I’ll put it under,” Black muses, then bursts into hearty laughter. “'Miscellaneous romance'! It’s going under ‘miscellaneous romance.’ ‘Valentine’s Day bash for singles only.’ Tell them to look for the curvy, curly-haired redhead.”

Whether you decide to paint the town red like Rachael Black (by the way, she posted the Fireside Lounge at the Peppermill at 6 p.m. as the place to meet) or just stay in with a stack of movies, there are plenty of ways to make this Valentine’s Day memorable sans significant other. Who knows, you may even find that it’s more fun to celebrate on your own without the pressure of conforming to society’s expectations for couples. It’s like saying the box of chocolates is half-full, instead of half-empty—and you get all the best pieces for yourself.