The kitchen table was covered with pink and red construction paper, white doilies, markers, crayons, glue sticks, scissors, stickers and an assortment of stars and hearts from the closet where I stash scrapbooking supplies and abandoned craft projects.
We were on Valentine No. 7, and I was running out of patience and tricks.
Fortunately, I'd anticipated this and had not waited until the last minute to start the project. I was, however, beginning to question the wisdom of catering to the whim of a kindergartner.
Having been through this once before, my first instinct had been to take the easier path.
"What kind of valentines should we buy for your class?" I asked. "Maybe they have some with princesses on them!" "No," she said firmly. "A valentine is when you cut out paper in the shape of a heart. Then you color on it, and put stickers on and glue things on to make it pretty."
Even as I inwardly groaned, I admit I was also pleased to see my 5-year-old insisting on the old-fashioned tradition of homemade cards, crafted with love and care and creativity, rather than shelling out more money to the Disney Corp.
Apparently, she's not the only one choosing homemade over store-bought this year. In the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, I read several articles predicting a not-so-sweet holiday for retailers.
According to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation, consumers planned to spend an average of $102.50 on Valentine's Day gifts this year, down from $122.98 per person last year.
Yes, even with people tightening their budgets, total Valentine's Day spending was expected to reach $14.7 billion. Now, as much as I want the local jewelers and florists and restaurants to succeed, I have to wonder: Have we lost our minds?
I understand that Valentine's Day has a long tradition dating back to a Christian martyr and a pagan fertility festival and was not, in fact, manufactured by the card companies, as some cynics believe.
However, even the true romantics have to admit that the American marketing machine hijacked the holiday somewhere along the way, convincing us that we can't express our love without rhyming greeting cards, gourmet chocolates and long-stemmed red roses.
At Valentine's Day, more than ever, the mixed messages we get all year collide, and we're forced to make sense of the quandary: Money makes the world go 'round, but love is all we need.
Maybe it's a good thing that fewer people can afford to splurge on Valentine's Day this year. We are, after all, a nation of binge-and-purge consumers. We over-spend at Christmas, and then, just as we're buckling down in January to face the credit-card bills, we're accosted with Valentine's Day marketing.
We have three choices: Don't celebrate at all; celebrate on the cheap (and this year, there are plenty of articles with tips for inexpensive but romantic gifts and dates); or succumb to the urge that got us into this recession in the first place _ splurge now, pay later.
On the other hand, the financial analysts are saying that our recent trend toward saving, while good for our personal financial health, is actually making the recession worse. That, ultimately, could hurt us more than credit-card debt by spurring layoffs and inflation.
So what, then, is the answer?
Perhaps the stimulus package Congress has agreed to should include a tax credit for buying chocolate. We'd all be feeling so good after eating it that we'd spend even more money, which could jump-start the economy, lift us out of the recession and allow us all to live happily ever after.
In the meantime, I will focus on paper hearts (as I write this, we still have several valentines to complete).
And on Valentine's Day, I hope to enjoy a sweet gift that you can't buy, not even with an American Express card: Bear hug from a kindergartner? Priceless.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org