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Heart smart: Clever ways to make Valentine's Day fun

The sugary-sweet sentiments associated with Valentine's Day often generate feelings of loathing among the single folks, the anti-romantics or even those in longtime relationships who end the day with unmet expectations.

Understandably, the traditional holiday fanfare can induce shudders as the date comes closer to Feb. 14.

"Historically, we've always thought of Valentine's Day as a romantic holiday, but I prefer to look at it as a holiday that focuses on any of the people that you love, including your parents, children or friends," said Tracy East, director of public outreach and social media at CESI debt solutions.

East offers several ideas on how to approach the holiday with a back-to-basics attitude that can reduce pressure (and wallet damage), by making Valentine's Day all about the love.

Here are activities and gift ideas to make this year memorable, whether you spend the day with your spouse, significant other or your best bud.

Gifts

Message jar: For married couples, love for your valentine lasts every day of the year — so show your continuing affection with a gift that gives for 365 days.

The idea is easier than it sounds: List reasons you love your spouse, fond memories, quotes and other significant lovey-dovey thoughts on strips of paper, totaling 365 notes to last until next Valentine's Day. And if the task still sounds daunting, have someone else do it for you.

The Web site www.kindnotes.com offers both customizable and premade message jars in various color schemes for about $30.

French macaroons: Rather than giving See's chocolates, seek out a sweet treat from the masters of love themselves, by buying or making your own French macaroons.

These almond-based sandwich cookies with cream or ganache filling are sold all over France in countless flavor combinations and are a romantic, light treat with a foreign flare.

Pick up a batch of macaroons for your loved one in at Les Madeleines cafe in Salt Lake City, 216 E. 500 South, or use Martha Stewart's recipe.

Homemade truffles: If you can't do without traditional Valentine's chocolates, try making your own truffles for the holiday. The rich, bite-size candies don't require any baking, and they offer creativity with toppings and flavors. Garnish yours with almonds, cinnamon, dried fruit, sea salt, sugar crystals or even cayenne chili pepper.

Food bloggers from all over the Web offer various homemade truffle recipes on www.foodgawker.com. Or, for a quick version, mix one block of cream cheese with one package of crushed Oreos, roll into balls and dip in melted semi-sweet chocolate.

World's smallest letter: For a cutesy gift that doesn't involve stuffed teddy bears, give your valentine a pint-size, personalized letter. The online shop for Leaf Cutter Designs is a transcription service that will put your thoughts in mini letter form, seal it with a mini wax seal that includes the sender's initials, and ship it off to the recipient of your choice. Pen your letter for $8 at www.leafcutterdesigns.com.

Activities

Check out a book of love poems at the local library, then spend time in a quiet place reading the artistic language together. East said she and her husband read poems over a picnic in their living room eight years ago, and the event made for her most memorable Valentine's Day to date.

Invite your friends over or make a group date night with a Valentine's-themed fondue party. Use a small, heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut fruits and cookies into heart shapes for dunking in chocolate fondue, and breads and vegetables for cheese fondue.

Make a love-themed playlist to play throughout the night, and have a craft table where party guests can make their own valentine cards. Then re-create elementary school tradition and have everyone exchange gifts at the end of the night. For fondue recipes and ideas, visit www.gofondue.com.

Enjoy a night out that doesn't include the typical dinner/movie plans. Go on a photo shoot or photo scavenger hunt with a twist — use construction paper to add a heart filter to the front of your camera lens. The filter will create heart shapes out of any source of light in your photographs, sprinkling your pictures with a Valentine's touch.

For more instructions on how to create the heart filter, visit www.diyphotography.net/diy_create_your_own_bokeh.

Use the holiday as an opportunity to show love for someone in need.

With friends or a date, tie quilts, knit beanies or find some other service project to do for the evening. Or visit a convalescent home, children's hospital or homeless shelter and spread Valentine's cheer by passing out treats, doing crafts or delivering a love-themed musical performance. Call your chosen location ahead of time so they know you're coming. Find service ideas on www.volunteers.utah.gov.


E-mail: bbrown@desnews.com