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Saying 'I Love You' Is In the Cards

Leigh Standley DiBernardo of Belmont Center's Marmalade creates valentines that touch both sender and receiver.

It is likely the very first Valentine Day gift you ever received.

They were in small envelopes and placed in a shoe box or on your desk in kindergarten or first grade and you went home to open them.

Cards addressed to you with the image of a puppy or a heart, and a message wanting you to be "My Valentine." 

Through your life, the Valentine Day card – from that first crush, a good friend or your life-long partner – has been the most recognizable, consistent and eagerly awaited expression of someones love for you on the 14th.

This year, nearly 190 million cards will be sent in the US, many created and produced by card giant Hallmark which produced its first valentine 99 years ago. 

So you want to pick out the right "one", that perfect combination of words and designs, to present to the special person in your life.

In her shop, , located in Belmont Center, Leigh Standley DiBernardo is also thinking about valentines. It's her business.

For nearly a decade, DiBernardo has created cards for her company, Curly Girl Design, that expresses for others what they can't say as well themselves.

It also helps that she enjoys Feb. 14. 

"I love Valentine's Day," said DiBernardo.

"It's an opportunity to take a second and write a little note. It doesn't have to be to your sweetheart but it can be to other people who you can think of as your sweetheart. Saying how much you like them is such a sweet thing to do," said DiBernardo, who opened her retail operation on Leonard Street 11 months ago. 

While her cards aren't as occasion specific as the more commercial operations, DiBernardo creates a good number on all aspects of love.

For her, the key to a good valentine is communicating something that you actually feel "without making someone else cringe" 

"It's like those 'Dear Granddaughter' cards," which DiBernardo admits receiving every year. "They are really beautifully written but at a certain paragraph, I just stop reading," she said.

For DiBernardo, a card needs to be short and to the point, "and a touch of humor is also nice," she said.

"But there has be something in it that is touching, where it can talk to the love of your life or to your mom or to your sister. It needs that universal feeling that is the same to no matter who you give the valentine to. Everyone will understand what is being said," DiBernardo said. 

You have found a place

in my heart

and so that place is yours.

It will fly your flag

speak your language 

and honor you with festive 

parades forever.

"I don't know if there is a trick finding that [seminal] feeling," said DiBernardo on creating a great card.

But after nearly 10 years in the business, DiBernardo says the key to a good valentine is authenticity.

"I just wouldn't said anything in a card that I wouldn't say to someone in person," she said.

"It's also about listening to people. I do write cards from my own prospective, but I also do so through another person's [eyes]," she said.

"You have to write from that moment in time that they are in. It is experiencing what they are going through or what they hope for. If you can do that, you've got a good card," said DiBernardo.

Even in the most uncertain times, 

which frankly, is most of the time

The thing I am most 

certain of is you.

DiBernardo doesn't see herself as being different from other card design companies other than working for herself which provides a level of freedom to do what she likes, even if there is the occasional "stinker."

"I get to write honestly," she said, not under the demand of producing "15 birthday cards" or that she can't have certain cards such as for same-sex relations. So she spend time on each card to produce the mix of feelings and truthfulness. 

"There's all different ways to say what I mean. I just have the privilege of doing this for a job," DiBernardo said.

Marmalade, 63 Leonard St. in Belmont Center, is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

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