Valentine’s Day, IMHO, is overrated. Like New Year’s Eve, there’s pressure to make it a fantastic magical fairy night of love and passion. Expectations are seriously raised … a gorgeous, La La Land-type, spur-of-the-moment romantic engagement, with perhaps some light dancing thrown in.
In real life, VD experiences come in somewhere between a cupid-themed Hallmark movie binge (which is actually soul-crushing in terms of expectations and dashing them) and hives from the macadamia nuts under heavy disguise in that drug store box o’ chocolates. My worst Valentine’s Day evening, about a husband ago, involved me having cramps, agreeing to a mediocre, hastily chosen Chinese restaurant for dinner, and my partner deciding, “Hey, this seems like a good place to order a margarita!” The night ended with him pouting over his bad cocktail, and me opening my fortune cookie and finding it empty. Message from the Universe, table nine!
Let’s say adios, mofo, to the way it’s been done. Let’s start fresh. Beyond flowers, chocolate and (sheesh) teddy bears. When it comes to buying gifts or planning an activity, do what I do — take all the credit for someone else’s creativity. To that end, check out the ideas below, all local, for something beautiful, different or fun. Chinese margaritas not included.
Just like your coworker’s pictures of their last camping trip to Big Bend, looking at photos of real artwork never does justice to the real thing. You have to see Jan’s work in person to appreciate the vivid, bright, intense colors that she uses. A longtime resident of Travis Heights, Jan works out of a studio there, often traveling to find new things to paint. She has landscapes like this available at an ideal gift size at 6” x 8”. $150 (512) 560-9644
This is for those of you bold enough to give a non-engagement ring on Valentine’s Day. Julie Konvicka abandoned the world of high tech to become a silversmith, moving to Brazil to learn, and ending up in Austin. She hammers and sculpts sterling silver and gold into shapes that echo the mathematics of nature and perfect form. She calls this ring “Monarch.” In Austin, you can find Julie’s work at Blanton Museum Shop, Maya, Positive Images and Women & Their Work. $250
Local artist Kristen Van Patten is onto something with this series of drawings and paintings of grackles fighting. No one likes grackles. They’re screechy, food-thieving hell beasts that shit on your car and swarm at dusk like the coming apocalypse. And yet, these pieces show an aspect of Austin that we’ve all experienced. Grackles as a common bond, if you will. Kristen includes his poem “The Grackle” in one of the drawings, ending with the lines, “I cannot help but deem the grackle/ An ornithological debacle.” Perfection. $85 for an original, $20 for a limited edition print.
The folks at locally founded Mighty Swell say their canned, sparkling cocktails are perfect for the beach or the golf course. But a friend of mine got my attention when she said, “They’re perfect for taking along to food trailers.” THAT sounds like fun. Skip the fancy restaurant and plan a Valentine’s excursion, offering these cocktails as an alternative to beer. Mighty Swell cocktails are made with fruit-based wine, infused with real fruit juice and pure cane sugar, and then carbonated. They’re available in peach, grapefruit and lemon flavor, and you can find them at supermarkets, beer/liquor/wine stores and some convenience stores. $9/6-pack
Inspired by a French piece found in a little shop in Mexico, this gorgeous nail mirror is hand-wrought iron. Each nail is also hand-wrought, making each piece unique. It’s available in two sizes with a silver leaf, gold leaf, or solid black finish. Rachel Horn spent her childhood in San Miguel de Allende, and has a deep knowledge of colonial design, Mexican culture and how to integrate both with American and international sensibilities. If you buy this mirror for your Valentine, you will be tempted to declare that this gift “nails it.” At the risk of being dumped, resist. $665
Everyone and his brother is selling copper Moscow mule mug sets these days—and yes, Jonathan Beall, craftsman and founder of Sertodo Copper, will sell you some as well. But don’t miss all the other gorgeous pieces he makes in his East Austin shop, from platters and serving bowls to pitchers, cups and plates. Many items can be custom engraved, and all are pure copper from 100% recycled material.
Take this beautiful ice bucket, for example. If I were giving this as a gift, I’d fill it with ice and start chilling down at least two bottles of champagne, but that’s me. Pick your poison. $250
This STEF clutch purse is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the relationship-ending dustbuster-as-Valentine’s-gift. It’s luxurious and feminine, and it’s even pink for the occasion. This one-of-a-kind handmade clutch features custom-made brass hardware by Atlanta-based jewelry designer, Rebecca Holt Jewelry. Made from high quality leather, it was tanned using natural vegetable tannins and oils, making it an eco-friendly alternative to most chemically processed leathers. Stephanie Montes is the founder and designer of STEF (Sustainable Threads Ethical Fashion). $138
Tours, blech. Boring tourist stuff, right? Wrong—enter Access ATX, whose tours and adventures range from a BBQ & Brewery Adventure and the Food Truck Crawl to Scandalous Austin, a combo of haunted hangouts and craft cocktails. These people are no fuddy-duddies: no tour buses, no nametags. All tours are private, customizable to your group.
Access ATX also creates full custom tours where you pick the destination and activity: honky-tonk two-stepping or skeet shooting and horseback riding at a ranch. For Valentine’s Day, though, I’d skip the option that includes kayaking on the lake. The kayak rental guy once told me that he refers to the two-person canoe as “the divorce boat.” Tour prices start between $75 and $95 per person. (512) 999-TOUR (8687)
Ellie May is the farm dog who inspired this Working Dog soap, though I’m sure despite her impressive resume, your own unemployed slacker dog would benefit from a good scrub. It’s made with Texas Coffee Trader’s coffee, oats, lavender, lemongrass and cedarwood for natural flea repellant and pleasant fragrance. The coffee is sourced locally, with all herbs and produce grown there at the farm—just like for all Springdale Handmade products. Their products are available at Springdale Farm, Wednesdays and Saturdays 9am to 1pm. Check the website for a list of retailers that carry their products. $7.50
’ll be honest; any company with the motto “Stay Bearded, Stay Bastard” can open my wallet and take my money. While I’m currently beardless, I’d guess that one in three Austinites either has, or personally admires, a beard. Now, the Bearded Bastard has you covered (HAR!) with beard care products. This Valentine’s Day grooming kit, available for custom engraving, includes beard oil, beard balm and mustache wax, all made by hand in Austin. The Bearded Bastard has also included their boar hair bristle beard brush, a Kent pocket comb, and a pair of micro-serrated beard scissors for controlling wild whiskers. $100
Full disclosure – this item hits a sweet spot for me as a lifelong Star Wars fan and a former inhabitant of France. Photos exist of my firstborn at three months wearing a “Future Jedi Master” onesie. But this item from Mitten and Moustache knocks it out of the park! Besides, parents of newborns have no joy in their lives—why not jolt them out of their sleep-deprived stupor with hip, pleasing baby clothes? Vintage concert posters, Japanese manga, and Austin itself inspire Mitten & Moustache’s children’s clothing. Founders Claire Ashton and Michael Slocum “hope to outfit little people with giant personalities in comfortable, curious clothing.” $29
Read more from the Community Issue | February 2017