by Michael Webb

The handwritten note or letter is nearly a lost art. In this day of electronic wizardry, it is so simple to send a message nearly instantaneously around the world in just a matter of a few short keystrokes on the computer.

But there is still something special about putting a fountain pen to a nice piece of stationary and writing a thank you card or a letter to a dear friend. It is often therapeutic NOT to have to use the computer for correspondence sometimes.

If you are in need of a special gift for a dear person, consider a unique box filled with wonderful writing objects. Here are a few suggestions:

# Fountain Pen
# Different colors of ink
# Sealing wax sticks
# Sealer (new or antique)
# Nice stationery (maybe personalized)
# Embosser with her name or initials
# Love stamps
# Ink Blotter
# New or antique desk set

It’s A Wrap

Wrapping paper can make a “statement,” just as much as what’s inside. Here are some suggestions:

# A large piece from a brown paper bag (try using sealing wax and a sealer you can buy at a stationery shop)
# Pages from the Victoria’s Secret catalog (good for wrapping lingerie)
# Old wall calendar (for watches/clocks)
# Travel posters (great for plane tickets or travel gifts; ask your travel agent for a free poster)
# The Sunday Comics
# A personalized picture or artwork created on your computer
# White butcher paper personally decorated with crayons
# Colored plastic wrap
# Greatly enlarged photocopy of a photograph
# Pages of your children’s artwork
# Vintage movie posters

How To Give A Gift

It is amazing how much thought someone will give into picking out the perfect present yet uses very little imagination on how to give it. In many ways, the presentation of a gift is just as important as the item itself. Imagine buying someone a gold ring and leaving it on the kitchen counter with a note that says “thought you might like this.” Contrast that with the gift of a ring hidden inside a rosebud that will “magically” appear as the rose blossoms in the sunlight.

The next time you are giving a gift, consider presenting it in a creative or meaningful way.

On one Saturday morning while my wife was sleeping in late I ran a string all through the house, beginning at the location where I hid her gift. The string went through cabinets, under seat cushions, in the bathtub, behind the sofa and throughout all the rooms in the house. Had I been thinking ahead, I would have attached small gifts all along the string as a teaser for the big present at the end. After I ran the string through our home, I brought the other end of the string to my wife in bed and explained that I had bought a present for her and it was at the other end. I had never seen her get out of bed so quickly on a Saturday morning.

Another way in which I like to give presents to my wife is by having her find them. I will write about 7 or so clues which lead from one written clue to the next until the final clue leads to the hidden gift.

If you want to go all out on the “treasure hunt” theme, you can give your spouse a tape in the “Mission Impossible” style giving them their assignment to locate the missing gift. Depending on the time you have and equipment available, you can even include videotaped clues which definitely would add to the overall excitement of the quest.

There are dozens and dozens of ways in which you can transform the presentation of even an ordinary gift into a truly romantic occasion. Just “think” about it.

99 Bottles Of Treasure In The Water

In the spring and summer, we are more likely to have afternoon picnics at the lake or walks in the woods, exploring rivers and streams. Beaches are also a popular destination that time of year.

Wouldn’t it be neat if you found a bottle with a note in one of those bodies of water?

When I was a kid (many say I am still one), I would look all over in hopes of discovering a floating bottle with a message inside. I admit I would still like to find one.

The chances of discovering such a bottle are nearly 100% if you plant it there yourself. The idea is for you to hide the bottle where it is unlikely that anyone else will find it and then take your sweetheart on a picnic or walk for him or her to “discover” the mysterious bottle in the water.

While any old bottle will do, you might want to shop or rummage around for one that is really interesting or at least would make a nice bud vase. My wife really likes the dark blue wine bottles to put on the table with a few flowers in them. The reason for picking out a nice bottle is that it is likely going to be kept as a memento of the wonderful romantic surprise you pulled off.

What you put inside the bottle is completely up to you. It can be as simple as a love note. Or it can be as creative as a treasure map (soaked in hot tea and with its edges burned off to make it look aged) that will lead them to a present you have hidden or buried. Perhaps it will lead to a picnic that you have secretly prepared in the woods or park.

Music To Their Ears

Does the love of your life ever travel without you, either on business or to visit their family? Do you ever wonder if they think of you and miss you when they are away? Here’s a way you can guarantee they will think of you and the only cost is the price of one or two blank cassette tapes.

Put your voice on tape. Since most of us don’t feel comfortable just talking into a microphone without knowing what we are going to say, I suggest reading a book.

Books on tape have become increasingly popular the last few years as people who like to read can no longer find the time or they listen to tapes as a productive way to fill up their commuting time.

What you record depends on the tastes of your significant other. My wife would love it if I read Winnie the Pooh or Peter Rabbit on tape. Others may prefer Shakespeare, Kipling, Stephen Covey or Gary Smalley.

If you want to be really creative, you could write your own story to read or you could take an existing story and change the names and other details of the book to closely match your life. Just make certain the story has a happy ending.

Once you have recorded the tape, you must decide how you are going to give it to the person for whom you made it. You can mail it in advance to where they will be staying. You can place it in their suitcase or briefcase. If they will be driving, you can pop it in the tape player of the car so it will come on automatically when they start the car. If they will not be in a car, you will need to provide a tape player as well.

Regardless of what you record, it will be music to their ears.

Don’t Do Valentines

I don’t buy my wife flowers or candy for Valentine’s day or take her out to eat. In fact, I don’t do anything out of the ordinary on that day. That may sound ironic, since I claim to be a romantic person. In fact, I think the opposite is true. I don’t consider it especially romantic if one does nice things for the love in their life just because they feel obligated. If you feel that there is only one day out of the year (or several if you want to include Christmas, New Years, etc.) that you should plan a romantic occasion, you are missing the picture. The romantic traditions of these holidays were probably created by women because it was the only times in the year the men in their lives would do anything special for them.

EVERY DAY is a potential day to do something special for the one you love. If you are looking for unique days to surprise your sweetheart, try to celebrate on days that would show you put a bit of thought into it. Here are some suggestions. Mark your calendars now! NOTE: I would not recommend “forgetting” Valentine’s if you are not already being actively romantic year round.

Non-Hallmark Holidays

# Month or year anniversary of your first date

# One month anniversary of her new job

# Six months after her birthday (six months until her next)

# First day of Spring

# After passing that big test

# On the birthday of one of your children (she went through a lot to bring that baby into the world)

# Longest day of the year (June 20)

Valentines Worth Sending

If you are going to celebrate Valentine’s Day, do it with a little forethought. I cringe every time I go to the grocery on February 13 or 14 and see dozens of men crowding around the greeting cards to buy one at the last possible moment.

Buy your card now and mail it out to Loveland, Colorado for extra special treatment. Your card will be postmarked LOVEland, Colorado and it will also be hand-stamped with a unique four line poem.

The Loveland Chamber of Commerce organizes this yearly romance project with cards going to all 50 states and over 100 foreign countries.

It’s simple. Just enclose your pre-addressed, pre-stamped Valentine’s card in a larger envelope and mail to: Postmaster, Attn: Valentines, Loveland CO 80537.

Here are some more “romantic” cities.

# Kissimmee, Florida 32741

# Valentine, Texas 79854

# Valentine, Nebraska 69201

# Loving, New Mexico 88256

# Bridal Veil, Oregon 97010

# Romance, Arkansas 72136

Go Fly A Kite – Seriously!

I can’t think of a much more romantic Sunday afternoon than a picnic followed by kite flying on a blustery day. One of the most romantic aspects of kite flying can be the making of the kites.

Kites are relatively simple to make. All you need are some wooden rods, string, small nails, glue and some sort of paper such as wax paper or parchment paper. I think it is fun to work on designing and building the kites together or have a competition to see who can make the kite that will fly the highest. If you want to go all out, make a fancy tail for the kite using pieces of scrap material you may have lying around the house.

If you check out a book on kite making at the library, you can learn how to make box kites, acrobatic kites or other unique kite creations. Just remember that the most important aspect of kite making and kite flying is the time spent together.

Gather your materials, make a few sandwiches, turn on the radio and have a wonderful time making your kites together. Then go find an open, windy place to test out your creations.

A Loving Lunch

This specific idea won’t apply to everyone, but hopefully you can take the concept and alter it to an occasion that is practical for you.

Pack a special lunch for your love. I used to pack my wife’s lunch when she worked in an office and I worked at home. I tried to help her out in the mornings as she was rushing off to work.

Even though I couldn’t be with her for lunch, I was there through the love that went into preparing her noon time meal. It perked up the rest of her day when I put a little extra “love” in her paper sack.

Here are a few ways in which I tried to “spice” up her lunch now and again to let her know just how much I care.

# Carve a message on an apple or pear in the morning and by lunch time, the message will “magically” appear.

# Draw cartoons or write notes on a napkin.

# Include Hershey Kisses or other wrapped chocolates. Write a short note on the inside of the wrapper.

# Put in a favorite comic strip.

# Write a short story and send it in installments.

# On sandwiches draw a heart on the bread with mustard or ketchup from a squirt bottle. You need to leave something off the sandwich like tomatoes or lettuce for them to add later so they will see it.

Chalk It Up !

I discovered the most wonderful romantic tool the other day – glow in the dark chalk! I have been having a lot of fun with it. I wrote some welcome home messages to my wife on our front sidewalk.

My sidewalk “art” shows up day or early night (the glowing properties only last an hour or so after it is no longer exposed to light). Next, I drew hearts and wrote silly messages all over our white bedroom walls. The graffiti is impossible to see in the daytime, but at night it shows up faintly (the fatter and larger drawings show up better.) Athena got a big kick out of it when she turned off the lights and she saw glowing hearts and sentimental messages surrounding the bed.

Clean up was a piece of cake. All I had to do was turn off the lights and I knew exactly where to scrub the walls. I find glow in the dark stars to be much brighter but the chalk is quite versatile and creative. Chalk one up to romance!

Food sure is fun. It is fun to eat and, despite what my mother tried to teach me, it is fun to play with. Have you ever played with your food? Try it, you might like it.

One particular fun food is the hearty toast and eggs. Take a slice of bread and use a heart cookie cutter to take a hole out of the center. Lightly toast both pieces. Scramble up an egg and just when it begins to take some non-runny form, put the toast in the skillet and place the eggs in the open heart of the bread for it to finish cooking. Serve with grits, bacon or some other side dish.

You can alter the above idea for even a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Place the piece of bread with the heart cut out on top of a whole slice. Does your lover like licorice? A message written in licorice “string” might just brighten their day.

If you are creating a Chinese meal or ordering one in, that would be the perfect occasion to make a giant fortune cookie with a special poem or note tucked inside. I’ll even provide the recipe.

My mom knows I still play with my food, but now she gives her approval.

Giant Fortune Cookies

1 cup-all purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup salad oil

1/2 cup egg whites (whites of about 4 large eggs)

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons vanilla

Prepare fortune, poem or note to include in cookies. Cut or fold the paper so it is approximately 1″ x 3″ in size.

Mix all the dry ingredients and then add oil and egg whites until smooth; beat in water and vanilla.

Drop 1/3 cup of batter onto a greased baking sheet and spread evenly into a 10-inch circle. Bake only one or two at a time in a 300 degree oven for about 14 minutes or until light golden brown; if underbaked, cookies will tear during shaping.

With a wide spatula, remove one cookie at a time from oven. Working quickly, flip it onto a your hand (please use a towel or wear cotton gloves). Place fortune in center of cookie and fold it in half, but do not crease it. Then fold the two ends towards each other and hold for a minute or two while it hardens. Repeat until all the batter is used. Makes 6.

Sweet Stationery

Kinko’s is one of several places that now sell stationery by the sheet (and envelope) instead of the box. There were about 12 designs that were appropriately “romantic” for my plan. There were designs with roses, flower gardens, jungles, teapots, luscious grapes, sunsets, and other scenes.

I bought one sheet of each design I liked – twelve in all. The entire purchase cost me about $1.00, rather cheap in my book. I put the stationery up with the rest of my romantic arsenal that I have assembled for surprise romantic “attacks”.

A few days ago I took them out. My wife had to travel out of town on a business meeting and luncheon (which means we didn’t get to eat lunch together – sniff). I knew it would be a long day for her so I wanted to welcome her home in a nice way.

I used my handy dandy little computer to compose a different short saying in a unique font for each piece of stationery. For example, on the one with roses on it, I wrote “God did create a rose without thorns – you.” I took the pages and placed them in a trail from the front door and into my office where I would be working.

When she arrived home she ran up the stairs and gave me a big hug and wet kiss. I guess she liked it.

What Weapons Are You Hiding?

I have lots of weapons in the house. Athena knows I have them but doesn’t know exactly what ammo I am hiding. She respects my privacy and doesn’t ask any questions about them.

My romance arsenal is constantly changing. I don’t want to tell you what is currently in it because Athena does read this column. However, I will give you some vague ideas about what I hide there. Of course I have a revolving supply of cards and materials to make cards.

Occasionally there are Hershey Kisses or other chocolates in the box which eventually find their way on to my wife’s pillow, vanity, writing desk or other special place.

In the past, I have hidden my glow-in-the-dark chalk and stars in my weapon box while I pondered how and when to best use them. My box has also been home to Rain-x anti fog, crayons, silly string and several other zany items.

Now is a perfect time to create your own romantic arsenal box. Start gathering your supplies today. I really beef up my supplies after Valentine’s each year when the items go on clearance. There are chocolates, stickers, unique candies, candles, small books and many, many other items that you can stash away for emergencies. If Athena ever comes home in a blue mood, I have dozens of items right at my fingertips that are guaranteed to take those blues away. With a properly stocked romantic arsenal you can instantly turn a frown into a smile or even transform a gentle smile into a beaming one. Time for me to go use up some of my supplies.

Counting Down To A Happy Holiday

There is a traditional eastern European Christmas gift called an advent calendar. It is typically a box with “doors” covering each day counting down to Christmas Day. Behind each door is a small treat, usually a chocolate or a type of toy you might find in a Cracker Jacks box. Most of the ones sold in specialty stores in the United States have a different candy behind each door.

You could certainly use this idea for Christmas and replace the children’s candies and toys with other gifts such as jewelry, poetry, concert/movie tickets, chocolates, perfumes or other items that would bring him or her joy.

This idea is not limited to the winter holidays. It is one that could be used any time of the year. You could count down a week or a month before any special occasion — like an anniversary or birthday. Either you can buy an advent calendar and replace the insides with something more from the heart or you could make one completely from scratch.

You don’t even have to use the typical advent calendar. You could buy small boxes from a stationary or card store and write the date on the outside of each box when it is to be opened. Or you could do the same with plastic Easter (or “Leggs”) eggs and put them in a basket to be cracked open one day at a time.

I like the idea of putting in clues to be discovered each day which will hint to the gift that will be given on the anniversary or birthday. Be certain to make the first clues difficult because if she figures it out right away, it will spoil the fun for the both of you.

As you can see, you can have a lot of fun with this idea. There are dozens of ways it can be altered to creatively count down to something special.

How To Send A Mail Love Bomb

Have you ever sent your sweetheart a card in the mail? If so, you are to be commended. Would you like to add some variety and make sending a card explodingly romantic? Include a little something else in the card. Like what, you ask?

For starters, you can blow up a balloon, write a message with a permanent marker, give it a minute or two to dry and then let the air out. Put the balloon in with the card. Here are a few other small but meaningful items you can send. Some have symbolic significance, others are just beautiful and are sure to ignite some passion.

* Feather

* Matches

* Interesting Leaf

* Butterfly wing (please don t rip one off a living butterfly – that is utterly unromantic.)

* Pressed flower

* Packet of seeds

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

It was a rare snowy day in North Carolina. My wife was working in a high-rise building downtown and I was going to pick her up from work. At the time, she had an office on the eighth floor which overlooked the street out front. Before she came down to the car, she would first look out her window just to make sure I was parked below.

I took this unique opportunity to be a bit romantic. Before I left home, I took a squirt bottle and filled it with ice cold Kool-aid. Any cold, red liquid would have worked just as well.

When I arrived in front of her office building, I quickly got out of the car and squirted “I Love You” on the white, snowy roof. It was important to use ice cold water as even lukewarm water would have instantly melted the snow.

I knew Athena would look down and recognize the car and know instantly the message was meant for her, but I did not expect to see dozens of other faces peering out the office windows and calling their friends and co-workers over to look down at the curb below. In addition I got quite a few stares, smiles and thumbs up as people walked past me while I waited in the car for my wife to come down.

You don’t even need to live where it snows or your sweetheart doesn’t have to work in a high-rise with a window facing the street to use this idea. You may have a two story house with a lawn out front or back that can be a canvas for your creativity. In the fall you can create poetry with leaves and in the summer you can cut messages with a lawnmower. A slanted roof is another slate where you can leave your mark. Just use your imagination and be careful up there.

None of the Fat, But All of the Fun

For Secretary’s Day, my wife received a box of assorted Jelly Bellys. For those who aren’t familiar with these candies, they are miniature jelly beans that come in dozens of flavors: mint, orange, pineapple, coffee, tutti frutti, peach, cotton candy, buttered popcorn and rootbeer are just a few.

While sampling my wife’s gift I thought of a fun game to play with the Jelly Bellys. Either you can buy the assorted pack or go to a candy or specialty grocery store where they are sold and buy a few of each flavor.

The basic concept of the game of a blind-folded taste test. One person is blind-folded while the other feeds them various flavors. For each flavor guessed correctly, they win a prize (a kiss, 5 minute massage, a one minute back scratch, etc.) For each flavor guessed incorrectly, they lose a prize (or have to give the other person a prize). To make it a little easier, you can give the person two chances to guess the flavor. If they get it on the first try, they get a better prize than if they guess it on the second.

To make the game even more interesting, you can combine Jelly Bellys to make unique flavors. Rootbeer and vanilla together creates a rootbeer float. Coconut and pineapple combine to make a Pina Colada. Chocolate and cherry ones create a chocolate covered cherry. There are dozens of different combinations that can be made from the nearly 100 flavored Jelly Bellys. Perhaps you can have a different scoring system for combination flavors.

You can buy dozens of Jelly Bellys for just a dollar and best of all, they contain no fat. Plus you will work off any calories consumed when it is time to redeem your prizes.

Bathtub Bubbles Can Create Bathing Bliss

Does your partner ever have a rough day? Of course! Sometimes, those days are even predictable. My wife is often exhausted on Fridays because of all the last minute projects at work that have to be finished before the weekend. Students and teachers are often fatigued at the end of exams. Mothers are tired at the end of every day.

Here’s an idea that’s bound to take the stress away. If you know your significant other is going to be in need of some special pampering, you can sneak into the bathroom and arrange a hot bubble bath for her. If the circumstances do not warrant you being able to do that, you can simply put all the necessary items in a nice basket or box and give it as a gift.

An even more creative way of presenting the bubble bath is to first go to a packing store and buy enough Styrofoam peanuts or pellets to fill up a bathtub at least half way. By placing the peanuts or pellets (like you would find in bean bag chairs) in the bathtub, you give the illusion of a bubble bath.

Next, you will “float” the gifts on top of the “bubbles.” Or, you can buy a rubber duckie and a little sailboat and float those and “sink” the other gifts below for her to find.

Here are some items that you should consider putting in the bathtub or in your gift basket.

* Bubble bath

* Soothing tape or CD

* Candles

* Bath oils or herbs

* Snacks (chocolates are always a winner)

* A bath pillow

* Natural sponge

* Book of poetry

* Comfortable robe for after the bath

All Work and No Play…

I once heard someone describe romance as adult play. I like that concept. I personally believe true romance involves much more fun than passion. While passion is important, we often feel “too mature” to play. Nonsense!

Those that know me consider me to be one of the biggest kids around. I don’t know of any rules that say I can no longer participate in water balloon fights or shoot people with silly string. I still get excited when I hear the music of the ice cream truck as it comes into our neighborhood.

Playing is a big part of my wife’s and my relationship. Sure, there is always work to be done around the house but living life and enjoying it is so much more important – and fun. I could spend every evening doing paperwork or cleaning up around the house but I much prefer taking my wife out to eat an ice cream cone. When was the last time you did that?

Do you ever walk in the woods or meadows together and pick bouquets of wild flowers? How about playing hide and seek with your children or the neighborhood kids? I love to bake cookies with my wife and eat them piping hot out of the oven and drink a big, cold glass of milk and make milk mustaches. Yumm!

Perhaps the media calls me the World’s Most Romantic Man because I am the world’s biggest kid. I think there might be a connection. Is the kid inside you lost? If so, you better go find him. I’ve gotta go now. Time for me to go out to play.

From Sarah: Michael Webb is Editor of The RoMANtic newsletter: Practical, Creative & Inspirational Ideas to Enrich Your Relationship

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