Be My Valentine

We proposed the Cary Magazine Be My Valentine Contest, and asked you to wow us. You did.

More than once, we uttered a collective “Awww,” to your fun and inspirational entries. In the end, our team chose the couple whose greatest-date-ever entry best met the contest challenge: It’s one that others — meaning you — can achieve, too.

Have a happy Valentine’s Day, courtesy of the Hickmans!

An evening of ‘firsts’

Keith and Lisa Hickman met through friends while in college, back in 1997. When she groused about having to write a paper on The Grapes of Wrath, he ditched a movie with friends to help her out.

“I liked the book,” Keith said.

“I didn’t!” replied Lisa. “But I got an A on that paper.”

“John Steinbeck brought us together,” Keith said. “We talked about the book then kept on talking, and I enjoyed the good conversation. And I brought her the leftover apple turnovers after my shift at Arby’s.”

“Most of the guys in college were about being macho, and they didn’t have a lot of manners,” Lisa said. “Keith was sweet and chivalrous. He slipped letters under my door, and one time even came to my door and sang to me.”

Now married for 13 years, the Hickmans are parents to Myles, 11, and Logan, 1. They’ve lived in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and settled in Fuquay-Varina in 2015. Both work for Cigna Healthcare, Keith as a resource planning manager and Lisa as a personal advocate supervisor.

Here’s Lisa’s entry on their winning date idea:

“Our ultimate date was not the most expensive nor the most elaborate; it was straight from the heart and completely melted mine. It was our very first wedding anniversary. We went back to (West Virginia University in) Morgantown, where we first met. He took me to the Boston Beanery pub where we had our very first date, and had arranged for us to sit in the same booth.

“We went for a walk to the dock where we shared our first kiss, and exchanged our anniversary gifts. I received a copy of — what else — The Grapes of Wrath. We spent the evening going to all of the places we had our firsts. The first movie, the first study date, the first time we volunteered together.

“A lot had happened in that first year of our marriage. Keith made me feel young and carefree, like we were back in college without the worries and responsibilities of the ‘real world.’

“We ended the night at Law Center Hill, sharing a Sprite, overlooking the stadium where he had proposed. He again got down on one knee and told me how grateful he was that I had said yes that night and how he would marry me again and again. He once again opened a small box, this time containing a diamond anniversary ring.

“They say you can never go back but we did,” Lisa said, “to the excitement and newness of a first love.”

“Well, the booth might have been luck,” Keith said with a smile. “I thought it would be good to go back and see where we came from, where we started. It was a special night for me, and I was hoping it would be for her too.”

Life Today

Lisa still has that copy of The Grapes of Wrath. She and Keith say that just-us dates have evolved into family time, and they’ve learned many things together since he first brought her apple turnovers.

“He would bring home the leftover turnovers as a treat, because we didn’t have much money for dates. It’s something we still talk about because it symbolizes Keith’s thoughtfulness and how he was trying to make each day a little special,” Lisa said. “It’s the effort, and something he still does today, every day. He’s always doing thoughtful little things to show love.”

“We’ve learned love is hard, and a lot of work,” Keith said. “It’s give and take, and compromise. But it’s worth it.”

Special thanks to the prize sponsors of the Cary Magazine Be My Valentine contest: Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, Massage Envy and Stick Boy Bread Co.

Wendy and Jonathan Beachy of Cary

“I found out I was pregnant the morning of Valentine’s Day (2014) and decided to save the good news for our dinner that evening.

“We were living in Boston and there was a blizzard, but we decided to keep our reservation. The restaurant was pretty empty … I was able to request a cozy corner booth. Since we were saving up to move to North Carolina, we decided not to get each other gifts. However, I handed over a small box and a card. At the bottom of the card I wrote, ‘You’re going to be a great Daddy.’

“In the box was a Valentine’s footie which should be just the right size to fit our daughter this Valentine’s Day!”

Lauren and Dave Sweetman of Cary

“One morning around 3 a.m., my then-boyfriend Dave woke me up and coaxed me to the car, where he had made a passenger’s seat nest of pillows and blankets. When I woke again, we were pulling into the San Diego National Zoo. I love animals, and going to the park was a bucket list item. Dave pulled out a duffel bag of clothes, my toothbrush and some makeup. We went on an early morning safari and the tour guide helped us spot a lion, hippos, giraffes and a hyena!

“We found a lovely mom-and-pop diner, shared a meal and a piece of pie, chatted with the locals and ordered to-go cups of coffee. I thought we were headed home, but Dave took me to a dollar bookstore. He said I could buy as many books as I could carry — for a bookworm, that’s a dream come true!

“He drove the three hours back home. We took turns building stories, and created anthologies that still live on as inside jokes.

“Dave proved that he knew me, appreciated my interests and loved me. A year later we were married.”

Cathy and John Pienta of Cary

“I surprised my wife on our one-third of a century anniversary — 33 years and four months! I booked a three-day weekend at our favorite bed and breakfast in Asheville, and planned out hikes in the Pisgah National Forest, as well as a visit to Biltmore.

“To find an excuse for her to pack, I told her there was a poker tournament in Tennessee that I wanted to play in, and she could do a little sightseeing and shopping. That morning I gave her flowers and asked if she knew what the special occasion was. She had no clue. I gave her an old LP record (33 and 1/3) which had a title about love. I showed her a third of a pie … The Three Stooges with one circled … one of the Three Tenors. I finally pulled out the homemade ‘I’ve been married a third of a century and all I got was a lousy T-shirt.’ My complementary shirt said ‘33 and 1/3 – Long Playing.’

“She finally got it. We had a marvelous few days in the mountains.”

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Be My Valentine?

Love is in the air, and Western Wake offers quite a few ways to celebrate your sweethearts!

From dinner and outings for two to “I-heart-you” crafts with the kids, you’re sure to find a happy way to spend the day, and make this your best Valentine's Day yet!


If your idea of Valentine’s Day is gazing at your beloved over candlelight, special menus at these local restaurants will turn your head.

Belle at the Jones House, Cary

(919) 378-9724

The Valentine’s Sweetheart Dinner at Belle, Feb. 13-14, offers dinner prix fixe or a la carte from a special lovers’ menu, champagne, and live music by pianist Scott Schillin.

The Matthews House, Cary

(919) 467-1944

The historic Matthews House sets the Valentine’s scene with an elegant five-course dinner, live music and dancing, on Feb. 14 from 6 to 10 p.m. Bonus: Complimentary champagne and red roses for the ladies.  

Academy Street Bistro, Cary

(919) 377-0509

A love-ly three-course menu at Academy Street Bistro for Feb. 14 includes Lobster Heart-Shaped Pasta!

Peak City Grill & Bar, Apex

(919) 303-8001

Peak City Grill is serving up its regular menu, along with a five-course Valentine’s Day treat, offered prix fixe or a la carte.

Lorraine's Coffee House and Music, Garner

(919) 779-5672

Lorraine’s offers an exclusive prime rib for two on Feb. 14 from 7 to 9:30 p.m., with accompanying music. Only 60 tickets are available.  

Chatham Hill Winery

(919) 380-7135

It’s not dinner, but it’s noteworthy! At Chatham Hill Winery, experience a specialty Flight of Chatham Hill Wine paired with Videri Chocolate, all day Feb. 13-15.


Cary Players presents The Best of Love Bits and Bites, a heartwarming mix of short plays about the many sides of love, through music and laughter, plus dessert at intermission. In the intimate setting of the Page Walker Arts & History Center, performances are Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 14 at 3 and 8 p.m.; Feb. 20-21 at 7:30 p.m.; and Feb. 22 at 3 p.m.

The JazzLive Concert Series at The Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex presents a special Feb. 14 show featuring special guest vocalist Jeff Miller with Jason Foureman on bass, tenor saxophonist Jerry Mandel and Peter Ingram on drums. Show is at 7:30, and adult tickets are $15.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.” The N.C. Symphony presents Casablanca on the big screen, with its Oscar-nominated score played live. Shows are Feb. 13 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 14 at 3 and 8 p.m., at Meymandi Concert Hall at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh.

For the KIDS

Enjoy some together time with the kids on Valentine’s Day, with these four easy crafts!

Paint chip bookmarks

Swing by the paint store for a few paint chips in your choice of colors, punch a hole in the top and string with ribbon. Decorate with crayons or stickers, and add a special message on the back.

Melted crayon hearts

Fold a sheet of waxed paper in half; spread crayon shavings inside. On low heat, iron over the folded waxed paper until the shavings melt. Once cool, trace various size heart shapes and cut out. Thread with twine and hang — when the sun shines through, they’ll look like stained glass!

Painted newspaper hearts

Cover your table with newspaper; wordy pages work best. Paint with washable watercolors and hang to dry. When dried, use a heart template and cut out lots of hearts. Glue onto construction paper or postcards to make cards for friends or classmates.

Heart tree

Trace your child’s hand on construction paper. Cut out the hand, plus several heart shapes, and glue to colored cardstock or construction paper. Add a message and photo.  

Craft ideas courtesy of parenting expert Jennifer Chung, co-founder of, a free place for parents to seek answers to their questions and track their child’s health information.

Snow Day!

Family fun in the snow happens at Waverly Place in Cary on Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Snow and sled fun, plus free Valentine-making, hot food and beverage stations. Free to play in the snow; $5 to sled, with sled provided. Ticket required.

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Be My Valentine

Flowers and candy, maybe even a stuffed pink puppy dog — the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts are great.

But consider adding something a little different to your repertoire this year.

Give Yourself
Get the whole family together for an art project that can’t be duplicated. The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will host The Gift of You, producing necklaces filled with your own DNA. Take a painless cheek swab to extract your DNA, and staff will teach you how to turn it into a keepsake.

Chocolate, for the Body
Check out The Umstead Hotel and Spa’s luxurious spa before it closes for renovations this spring. February specials are all about chocolate! A chocolate body wrap, chocolate masque facial or champagne & chocolate pedicure are sure to hit a sweet spot with your Valentine.

Sweat it Out
Enjoy quality time, support each other with accountability or go head-to-head for a little friendly competition in the gym. Studies show that couples who sweat together, stay together.

Sign up at any O2 Fitness location (10 in the Triangle) during February and receive 50 percent off enrollment. What better way to work off that heart-shaped box of chocolate?

Additionally, O2 Fitness locations in Chapel Hill will provide a free flower to all members who come in to work out today, while supplies last, courtesy of University Florist.

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Be My Valentine

Do something different this Valentine’s Day!

Get creative with all-local outings this week, from music to martial arts to hoops with Scotty. We’ve also got a few special treats just for you.

Then, whether you wear jewels or jeans, this Valentine’s Day will be one you and your sweetie both remember.

Here are ideas to get you started — just click for details:

Romantic Fantasies, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m.
The Clayton Piano Festival kicks off its first season with this concert featuring Schumann’s oh-so-passionate Fantasy in C Major and other works by Chopin and Liszt, performed by Jonathan Levin.

Garner Showcase of Talent, Feb. 11, 2 and 7 p.m.
This free annual treat features all-local performers offering dance routines, martial arts and music galore. Acts include The Hall Sisters, the G-Squad, Dave Kamphuis, The Josh Pepper Band and more.

Dinner & Dancing, Feb. 11, 6 p.m.
Woo your sweetie with dinner and dancing to music by the Carolina Island Boys, at nearby Adams Vineyards.

Scotty @ Hoops for Hope, Feb. 12, 5 p.m.
Garner’s own American Idol Scotty McCreery performs at halftime in the Hoops 4 Hope basketball game at N.C. State; the event supports the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

One More — Just For You
Treat yourself this Valentine’s Day — check out our Recommended Reds for style boosts from head to toe!

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