Single men like me are often smug and dismissive about Valentine’s Day, “We don’t need your stinkin’ commercialized love day! We love 365 days of the year.” so we say. Women are usually more dreary, “No, I’m just going to to stay in, watch Gilmore Gilrs with 2 tubs of Chunky Monkey.” However, some of us are man or woman enough to admit that we yearn for our very own “Forever Valentine” to celebrate this holiday with.

Wanting to be proactive instead of spiraling into self pity or the all too cool, “Oh I didn’t even notice it was Valentine’s Day”, I seek some advice from a wise and trusted friend about picking a forever valentine.  Her qualifications include: she’s married with children and she’s a professional picker. A picker in the antiques and collectibles world can spot value at a yard sale, estate sale, or flea market and pick out the best and most valued goods from 2 blocks away.  Popularized by TV shows like American Picker, The Antiques Road Show, Pawn Stars, pickers have a mystical quality to spot and identify an item for it’s rarity and value, and snatch them up.

Maria Michels has a shop in downtown Visalia, on Clark Street, next to a Hertz Rental car.  Outside this warehouse building are many small rocking chairs, a doll house, a lamp and a few paintings, a bare wall with a window covered with bars and a door.  If it wasn’t for the sign that says “Dolores n Me Antiques” you would think someone was getting rid of their junk and just put it out on the sidewalk.  However when you open this over painted door, with a glass window, a little bell rings like they do in the old fashioned shops you only now see in movies. Every time I visit the shop I am welcomed by my own wonder.  This place is a sparkling, blinking, gilded shop of curiosities that has something to catch your eye in every inch of space.  Even if you don’t like antiques or old things this place is a 4-D history scrapbook from the turn of the century.

Today, I walk in and don’t see anyone, but I can hear Maria’s energetic voice call me from the back.  I don’t see her still, but she soon emerges from the middle room, where she has curated her glassware, pottery, and american earthenware. She comes through the room and her smile is the only thing that can distract me from looking around aimlessly.  We give each other a hug, and immediately she says, “come see this place” and directs me to another room with a huge screen depicting an english fox hunt and crystal chandeliers above us. We do our usual catching up, but she doesn’t know that today I’ve come on a different type of mission.

Maria, how do you pick a good mate?

She’s dismissive and chuckles a bit, “I’m sorry to say but I think I’m better at picking jewelry than I am at picking people.”

I push on with my question, sure that there must be a principle that translates from being a good antique picker to picking a good mate?  Perhaps daunted by the question she resists and tells me, “You know, you should ask your father, he may know something about that.” This is the kind of answer your mother gives you when you ask her about sex when you’re 12.  I think she fears I am a bit overgrown to be asking, “How do I talk to girls?”

I think she has misunderstands my intention or the context, so I persist, but this time I state my question more plainly, “What makes you a good antique picker?”  Yes I am sneaky, and I will make this wisdom fit my own purposes.

After all, the principles of a good antique picker must have some application to picking a good girlfriend or spouse, no? I will not be denied this wisdom!  Here’s how I drew the parallels in my hypothesis, you’ll find the logic stunning and elegant.

Qualities to look for…In an antique   In a valentine
Beautiful and well made<3<3
Good Values and Character<3<3
Stands the test of time<3<3
Gets better with age<3<3

In getting my dose of wisdom I spend an afternoon running after Maria, in her house of curiosities trying to keep up with the her pace and energy.  I tell her we’re going to shoot pictures of one-of-a-kind his and her Valentine’s gifts, and every time I describe something to her, a light bulb goes off and she’s striding briskly into the next room faster than an single person at a speed dating event.

She finally relents and shares some wisdom with me, as we examine a gold pocket watch.  Here are the top 3 lessons on how to be a good picker of antiques and a valentine.

 #1 Go for the gold! Experienced pickers know that some things have intrinsic value, precious metals, solid oak, and gems for example.  A pocket watch regardless of its maker, if it’s made of gold, has real value. Lasting things like lasting people have qualities and character that have real value and integrity. Dig deep and don’t be in a rush. Look carefully at the values and character of your prospective forever Valentine. Do their values match yours, and will they get better with time?

 #2 Look for the Marks.  Antiques have authenticating marks, whether it’s the mark of the maker, where it’s made, what it’s made of, or the patina of time passing.  People have markings too.  What’s on the inside definitely is more important when it comes to people; however we’re not just talking about beauty, people’s “marks” are their outer lives that give us many clues about their habits and thoughts.  If you’re a neat and organized person don’t date the girl/guy that’s a complete slob or only cleans up when you come over.  If you want someone that is college educated, look their diploma and listen to how they speak.  If you want kindness, honesty, integrity, creativity, respect, look for the marks, and distinguish the genuine from the fake.

 #3 Gain Wisdom.  Maria has almost every kind of antique or collectible in her shop, so I ask her how she built such a broad knowledge of different antiques.  She said learning, study, and practice. Maria’s expertise is jewelry and lighting but she knows enough about almost everything antique to be dangerous.  First, she says she had great mentors when she started picking, and they taught her specifically about their area of expertise. Then she bought hundreds of books to study on artifacts her mentors could not teach her about. Third she practiced her eye and hand by getting out there and picking through yard sales, and estate sales.  More recently though she trains dozens of her pickers, each with a specialty, in glass, art, jewelry, pottery, western, you name it she has a trained picker.  Eventually you will know what, when, where, and how to pick very quickly.

People are complex and it’s a wonder we just leave it to destiny or love at first site. Let luck play its part, but we must know what we want and practice getting it.  If you know the kind of Valentine you want then don’t go following every beautiful, charming girl or guy out there hoping she or he will be the one.  First, be a good picker.

We finally slow down from our zig-zagging as I take the last photos, and I leave Maria and her shop not with a vintage pocket knife, or a silver parker fountain pen (my last purchase) instead I come away with invaluable wisdom, a little more wisdom to find my very own Valentine.


Maria and me at her shop
Dolores N Me
105 S Clark St, Visalia, CA 93292
(559) 739-1089



How To Pick Your Valentine – 3 Lessons from a Professional Picker

About The Author
- Born in the Philippines, raised in New Jersey, and living in Visalia. I'm a fan of people and the culture they create. I arrived here from Los Angeles in 2006 teary eyed from the "smell of money" (a.k.a. cow poop) and what I thought was a lack of "things to do".I met some wonderful friends along the way that helped guide me through our close knit communities to discover a growing art culture, a love for fine food, great music, and community. It's time we share this richness with each other and the rest of the world - this is Joaquin Around.Do you have recommendations, or content to share, contact us here on the site or email me directly at