Valentine’s Day Card Collages

This time last year I wrote a rant filled blog post about my loathing of Valentine’s Day and the fact that traditions here in America meant I was having to actually purchase Valentine’s Day tat for the first time.  A year on and my feelings have not changed.  However, I again capitulated to the commercialisation of love and romance by purchasing cards and Valentines themed pencils for my sons to hand out to their classmates.  This year I was also involved in three class Valentine’s Day parties.  All in one exhausting day. One. After. The. Other.  The smithereen of grudging tolerance for Valentine’s Day I possess was stretched mightily thin.

However, despite my having a cynical rather than romantic bent, I did decide to make my boys Valentine’s Day cards.  I figured that I was giving into the tradition while not giving into the commercialism since the cards were hand made.  The boys had enjoyed the shark collage I made recently using torn paper and involving no planning or sketching so I decided to take the same approach with the cards I made for my kids.  I used scraps of paper, gelli prints and magazine pages with a little bit of washi tape and paint pens to add facial details.  Each boy received a card with their favourite animal on it: penguin, zebra, unicorn and dog – even though all the Picts determined that my collage scruffy dog looked more like a cat.

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Whether you are a traditional romantic or a cynic when it comes to the commodification of love, I hope you had a wonderful day on 14 February.

Selling Love in Packs of Thirty

When I was in Rome a few years ago, we saw the (purported skull) of St Valentine.  I am sure in life he was a stand-up guy but he has a lot to answer for.

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I loathe Valentine’s Day.  With.  A.  Passion.

An element of it is that I am hard-wired from experience to despise it.  Every year, kids at school would pass anonymous lovey-dovey, bokey cards to each other.  I would receive one card a year with handwriting suspiciously mature for your average 11 year old and somewhat reminiscent of my father’s script.  As an adult I can reflect on that and think how sweet and thoughtful it was of my Dad to not want me to feel left out but at the time it felt like salt being rubbed in the wounds.  It wasn’t really that I wanted a declaration of romance from some snotty nosed boy – because really I very much didn’t – but I was bullied for being a square peg all the way through school so Valentine’s Day was just another means to remind me of how unpopular I was, how left out I was. Of course, my super-popular younger sister would need a sherpa to help her transport home all of her cards.  I might have been a wee bit bitter about that at the time.

Then one year, when I was about 13, I received my one and only Valentine’s card and it was gigantic.  Massive.  It was over half my height and there was an icky, cutesy panda on the front. In one fell swoop it could have made up for all of those years of never having received a card.  Except it didn’t.  My epiphany that day was that receiving an obscenely proportioned card from a sproddy teenage boy who makes your spine judder is so very much worse than receiving no cards at all.  So I took the card and shoved it in the outside rubbish bin – because it was too big for the kitchen bin – but my Mum discovered it.  I learned I had been foiled when I walked into the living room and discovered the card, in all its gigantic glory, perched atop the television set.  It was as if my parents had turned it into some sort of shrine.  So I whipped the card from it’s place and ripped it into tiny pieces before placing it, once again, in the bin.  This time my Mum decided not to stick it all back together and restore it.  Job done.

However, it is not just those childhood experiences that wrecked Valentine’s Day for me.  I have been in a happy, loving, committed relationship for twenty years but Valentine’s Day is still not part of my calendar because I actually detest it for ethical reasons too.  First of all the whole idea that there should only be one day a year when people express their romantic feelings to each other, having had to be prompted by the date to do so, is a complete and utter nonsense.  If you want to tell someone that you fancy or love them then just do it when the feeling hits you.  So you realise you like someone on 15th February – are you really going to wait 364 days before you tell them so?  Of course not.  So what is the point?  The point is that having one day a year for designated romance means big business for card companies, florists and possibly even chocolatiers.  It is all just commercial hype that people get sucked into.  You walk into a shop with shelves stacked with random foods and objects covered in pink and red hearts and peer pressure kicks in.  The panic of conformity.  If everyone else is buying this heart covered tat then what happens if you go home to your beloved empty handed?  So you buckle to peer pressure and clever advertising designed to play on your vulnerabilities and buy some tat.  Think of the money those businesses rake in on that one day not to mention the boost for restaurants too.  All those marriage proposals on Valentine’s Day too.  How original.  Thankfully Mr Pict and I have a pact to not submit to the commercialism and we don’t mark Valentine’s Day.  People may judge but we don’t care.  Non-conformity is a comforting feeling in the Pict family.

So why am I blogging about Valentine’s Day weeks too early?  Because I am irked that I am being forced to conform and that makes me loathe Valentine’s Day even more.

The other day, I noticed a post on Facebook from a friend who lives in California.  It was a link to lots of creative ideas for Valentine’s gifts for your kids to hand out.  Woah, woah, woah!  Kids hand out Valentine’s gifts in the US?  I posed the query and friends confirmed that, yes indeed, it is traditional here in America for children to hand out cards and presents to their classmates.  My heart sank and my blood boiled.  Simultaneously.  I pinged a quick email to one of my boys’ teachers in the hope that perhaps their school did not participate in this tradition but alas she confirmed that they have a Valentine’s party and kids exchange cards and gifts and they even make bags in which to collect all their heart-shaped booty.

In Scotland, Valentine’s Day is very much the preserve of teenagers, courting couples and old marrieds.  It is not for children.  My kids have been raised in a culture where giving someone a Valentine’s card is a way of expressing your love for them, a way of indicating that you want to smooch them.  I was not looking forward, therefore, to breaking the news to them.  I predicted a full-scale rebellion.  It transpired, however, that the word “party” took the edge off the news and I was emphatic in explaining to them that the card exchange would, at Elementary School age at least, be a declaration of friendship rather than of love.  They were just about sold.

So now I am being forced to conform.  I don’t want my kids to not participate in events at school, I don’t want them to feel left out and I don’t want to foist all of my views on them either.  Who knows, after all, maybe I am raising some budding romantics.  I don’t see any evidence of that so far but you never can tell.  So this year I am going to have to opt in to the rampant commercialism and buy packs upon packs of Valentine’s cards for each of my sons to hand out and, in turn, they will each tromp home with bags full of pink and red heart-shaped tat.

So now I have another reason to find Valentine’s Day intensely annoying.

I will conclude this blog entry with my Zombie Valentine drawing from a Zombie of the Week project I set myself a couple of years ago.  That’s all the Valentine’s romance I can muster right now.

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Coupons

I am by nature a very thrifty person.  I know how to spin out a budget so I have always used vouchers and coupons when they are available to me.  I feel like an utter amateur here though.  

Twice now I have been in the checkout line at the supermarket behind someone who has saved a King’s ransom by using coupons.  I have to admit that last time was a bit tedious.  The woman in front of me handed over a fistful of coupons, a bundle of small papers the thickness of a decent novel, and each coupon was then laboriously scanned or, worse, typed into the till.  A few would not process so a supervisor had to be called to override the system and permit the discounts.  It took an age.  However frustrating it was, I was still massively impressed that the woman was walking out of the shop with her trolley bulging having handed over relatively little cash for it all.  She was a couponing pro.  When it came to my turn, I was almost sneered at for handing over just one measly coupon.  Amateur.

I have good intentions.  I have a little coupon wallet where I can file all my clipped coupons until it is time to use them. I’m a control freak who loves nothing more than making lists and organising things so this is right up my street.  The trouble is, every time I go through the coupon books, I find that probably 5% of coupons are for things I would buy.  The rest are either not relevant or are too expensive even with the discount or are simply things I would not choose to buy.  I have, however, been clipping those coupons anyway and have been leaving them on the relevant shelves at the supermarket so that someone else can benefit from them.  It adds to the time it takes me to go around the supermarket but helping the Coupon Fairy makes me feel a bit warmer and fuzzier inside so I will keep clipping.  Suffice to say, I am never going to be a coupon pro.

What is great, however, is that discounts on groceries in the UK are proper discounts.  In the UK, discounts and deals often smacked of tokenism or required the purchase of three weeks’ worth of seedless grapes in one transaction.  Lame.  And loyalty cards meant racking up points that were worth a sliver of a pence each.  Here’s a measly few quid to thank you for shopping with us all year.  Oh and by the way you need to spend that few quid in our shop like a throwback to the truck system.  Thanks again.  Here I have a loyalty card for my local supermarket, a national chain, that saves me money with regular everyday purchases, sometimes knocking things down as far as half price, while also still racking up points for special coupons and vouchers.  That’s a much better way to reward customers.  I can easily save a quarter of my bill each time I shop there with money off for this, that and the other.

I still aspire to get better at couponing though.

Paypal makes me a non-person once more

Today I embarked on removing myself from various now irrelevant mailing lists, electronic and postal, and updating my details with websites I intend to continue to use.  Two of these were Ebay and Paypal.  Ebay was a breeze.  I changed my address from the UK to the US and they automatically switched all of my details to Ebay.com so I have been able to transfer my buying and selling ratings across the Atlantic.  However, given that I had changed my details with Ebay, I was then prompted to change my details with Paypal.  That’s when the hijinks started.

Paypal is doing its level best to remind me that I am a non-person.  Unlike with Ebay, I cannot simply transfer my account across the Atlantic.  It’s financial and the movement of money across borders is strictly controlled so it is logical and I accepted that.  A lot of searching the help section enabled me to uncover the jiggery-pokery required to do what I needed to do: I had to close my UK account and then open a new US account.  Simple.  Except I have a not insubstantial balance on my UK Paypal account since I was paid for various personal possessions we sold in the UK using Paypal.  If I closed my account prior to opening the US one then all that virtual money would disappear.  I, therefore, contacted Paypal to learn specifically what someone in my circumstances should do.  They permitted me to briefly have two accounts in my name so long as they were linked to different email addresses so that I could transfer the balance.  So I changed the email address of the UK account and registered a new US account.  Which is when the whole plan ran aground.

As per my blog entry of a few days ago, I have no independent access to our joint finances courtesy of my present status as an SSNless immigrant.  Yes, I do repeat myself when I’m in soap box rant mode.  So, of course, Paypal required me to enter a linked credit or debit card to the account.  I have neither.  Actually I do have a debit card for my joint bank account but I have not been able to register it because I do not, as yet, have an SSN.  So I could not link a debit card to the account – at least not one with a US billing address since I do still have a UK bank account at present.  Nor could I add a credit card because my lack of SSN (and, let’s face it, non-existent credit score for the US despite a stonking credit score in the UK) means I am not eligible to apply for one.  So the process stalled.

Of course, my incomplete new Paypal account can still accept balance transfers so I duly shifted the balance from the old to the new accounts … whereupon it disappeared into the electronic ether.  I now have zero balance on either account, though it is very possible I am just being impatient and it will appear.  Meanwhile every time I log on to check said balance transfer,  Paypal prompts me to add not just a credit or debit card but also my social security number.  Keep on rubbing the salt in, Paypal.  E-commerce a la Kafka.

Some friends have advised me that it is possible for me to obtain a pre-paid credit card.  In effect I shove some money on to a swipe card which I can then use as if it was a regular debit card.  I think I am going to take the plunge and get one in the hope that I can add it to my Paypal and other online retail sites and it might just make my life that bit easier and time-efficient too.  I will still be a non-person but at least I will be a functioning non-person.