February 14th. Do all those hearts and flowers remind you of conscription into the Roman army? Or maybe a violent beating and beheading? Valentine, an early Christian priest, ran afoul of Roman Emperor Claudius II for secretly performing the marriage rite. Claudius had banned weddings, believing that married men did not make willing soldiers. As punishment, Valentine was publicly beaten and beheaded, his head displayed on a pike as warning to others inclined to disobey the emperor.

Or at least that's one version. There are at least two other early Christian martyrs named Valentine who have been celebrated on February 14; in 1969, the Roman Catholic church removed Valentine from the general calendar of saints due to lack of proof regarding his martyrdom. However, the church still recognizes this shadowy figure or figures as a saint. Presumably, we celebrate romantic love on Saint Valentine's Day due to the wedding connection. How we got from there to the mega-industry of cards, candy, flowers, and everything else pink and red is a tale too long for this space.

I like chocolate as well as the next person. Flowers are always welcome. Cards, also nice...although in my opinion there's nothing like an original sentiment written by an actual person. And a nice bottle of wine improves most occasions. But a visit to the drug store or grocery this time of year is downright perplexing. Valentines teddy bears, Valentines mugs, Valentines boxer shorts? What do you do with this stuff after the 14th?

As a stoic native Midwesterner, I am perhaps not the ideal target for all this mush. I'm closer to the ethos of my older sister, who, abhorring the stickiness of February 14th, created her own non-commercial holiday to celebrate love. She and her husband celebrated on February 2, searching far and wide for groundhog and woodchuck-themed items. One year they found woodchuck drawer pulls. Then a plush groundhog doll appeared, and in subsequent years Grandville the Groundhog gained clothing, accessories, and his own storybook and short film. Now that's devotion!

I'll probably celebrate V-Day by cooking a tasty meal, opening a nice bottle of wine, and relaxing with John and the dogs. However you choose to celebrate the day, I hope it's grounded in the people and creatures who you love best. If your vision of that includes a great bottle of wine, beer or spirits, we-of course!-have some ideas for you.