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Published Feb. 11, 2008

Drab and dour February has gotten a bum rap.

It is stuck in the middle of winter, somewhere between damp and dreary and sometimes dismal.

It is the shortest month of the year, but certainly seems like the longest, at least to those of us who abhor unsettled weather reports. Oh, we may get a glimpse of what is to come in March and April, but it doesn't last long before the monotone skies reappear.

February, however, is a pearl of a month, at least to the Finnish, who call it helmikuu, meaning the month of the pearl, when snow melts on branches and refreezes into pearls of ice. In Finland, any sign of spring is welcome, even pearls of ice.

In the States, one way to make it through February is to contemplate Valentine's Day and the many ways we can say "I love you" to those who matter in our lives. And there are so many choices!

Here are some suggestions that are unusual, I agree, but certainly different and just as expressive as the $3.99 card or that box of chocolate you pick up at the mall.

February is American Heart Month. Give your loved one a trial membership to a health club, join a walking club or buy them a pedometer. When Valentine's Day comes around next year, their heart will definitely beat stronger for you.

February is also Library Lovers' Month. Give your loved ones a membership card to your local library. Libraries offer many interesting ways to broaden intellectual horizons, and the cozy, quiet atmosphere of a library will certainly warm the cockles of all your loved ones' hearts.

February is Children's Dental Health Month. Make an appointment to have your kids' teeth cleaned. Buy the family some new toothbrushes and use them more often, especially after eating all those delicious chocolate treats tempting us from those frilly, heart-shaped boxes.

February is Black History Month. Buy your loved one an autobiography of one of our nation's influential black leaders or a book of poetry or essays written by the many African-American authors and be prepared to read some heartfelt messages within the pages of these books.

February also hosts National Engineers Week. Engineers make our world a comfortable, visually attractive, workable environment. They deserve our heartfelt recognition.

These examples are just a few of the ways we can diversify the month of February and lighten both our hearts and our days.

Norma McCulliss lives in Palm Harbor.