By Heidi Stevens
Call me unromantic (you wouldn't be the first one), but I'm sick to death of diamonds.
Lately I can't open the mailbox, pick up the phone, turn on the TV or pass a bus without being bombarded with messages extolling the virtues of fine jewelry and implying that my husband is a lout if he doesn't cough some up for Valentine's Day.
The fliers are full of ugly ruby heart-shaped earrings and pink sapphire tennis bracelets. The telemarketers are full of good cheer and savvy advice: "Stop in this weekend, and you can save 10 percent on select diamond pendants!" And the TV commercials are full of baloney: "Make Valentine's Day last forever!"
Valentine's Day is in the middle of February. It's usually 20 degrees outside, and the ground is coated with ice and indiscriminate piles of black slush. Not the kind of day I want to last forever.
Nonetheless, it's a bona fide Hallmark holiday and, if nothing else, a nice time to tell the people you love how much they mean to you. That doesn't mean you have to do it with jewels. Or roses. Or lingerie.
Valentine's Day gifts don't need to be cheesy to do the job. Just follow this simple guide and win (or keep) the heart of your gal pal (assuming she's the pragmatic type who wouldn't be caught dead on a horse-drawn carriage ride).
Instead of: "Ten Poems to Open Your Heart" by Roger Housden, $10.50 on barnesandnoble.com.
Try: "Speaking With the Angel" edited by Nick Hornby, $10.80 on barnesandnoble.com.
Why: While "Ten Poems" promises to "open, gladden, or pierce your heart," "Speaking With the Angel" actually will. A compilation of short stories by such authors as Helen Fielding, Irvine Welsh and Roddy Doyle, this book is both hilarious and poignant and will give the two of you plenty to talk about.
Instead of: Estee Lauder's Beautiful Eau de Parfum spray, $60 for 2.5 oz. at most major department stores.
Try: Four CDs: "Come Away With Me," by Norah Jones, "Failer" by Kathleen Edwards, "Inside Wants Out" by John Mayer and "The Hell You Say" by Cory Branan. Roughly $15 each, depending where you buy them.
Why: Apply some perfume in the morning (even the $60 stuff) and it evaporates into the ether three El stops later. Listen to some good music in the morning, which these four CDs are full of, and the tunes stay with you all day.
Instead of: The FTD Beauty of Roses bouquet, $105.99 at FTD.com.
Try: Two tickets to see Al Green at House of Blues on April 13, $110.
Why: Roses, teetering on the brink of passe for years, have had any last remnants of romanticism sucked out of them by ABC's "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." Meanwhile, "Let's Stay Together," which Al Green released in 1972, retains its romantic groove after all these years.
Instead of: Temptation-brand camisole and French thong with black lace and wild roses, $143 at Neiman Marcus.
Try: Entire outfit from J. Crew: flared chino, $49.50, high-twist lace slash-front tee, $28, Hawaii buckle-strap sandal, $58 (Total: $135.50)
Why: Oh, come on. Unless her name starts with Christina and ends with Aguilera, your girlfriend/wife prefers real, honest-to-God clothing over lingerie. And being the pragmatist that she is, she probably doesn't treat herself to cute, casual pants, shirts and skirts nearly often enough. Help her out.
Instead of: 3/8 carat princess-cut diamond pendant, $599 at Kay Jewelers.
Try: A Whirlpool 4.65 cubic foot self-cleaning smoothtop electric range, $579.99 at Best Buy.
Why: Because whoever came up with the "no appliances as gifts" rule never lived with a decades-old stove that has been fixed three times and still leaks gas. Given the choice, I'll always take a brand-new, big box appliance I'll use everyday over a flashy necklace I might wear on occasion. And that smoothtop feature is really cool.
Instead of: 1½ carat diamond ring with baguette and princess cut diamonds set in 14K gold, $2,999 at J.B. Robinson Jewelers.
Try: A weeklong trip to Aruba: Roundtrip airfare from O'Hare to Oranjestad on American Airlines and seven nights at the Brickell Bay Beach Club at Palm Beach, $2,267.35 on expedia.com. Figure $100 a day for meals and entertainment. (Total: $2,967.35).
Why: Diamond rings are beautiful. Diamond rings last forever. Diamond rings are for marriage proposals. Aruba is for lying on the sand in 80-degree weather with a warm breeze tickling your toes as you read a good book and order another margarita from the beach bar. Who could argue with that?
© 2003, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.