Heart on a String: A sweetly simple sign of love

It’s funny the way that holiday decorations can instantly bring me to a happy place. In December, the stress of holiday traveling melts away when I see my childhood stocking (made by my mother years ago) hung over the fireplace. In college, I remember the sense of connection and solace when my friends and I would do silly things like paint Easter eggs together or decorate our dorm rooms with hand-print turkeys. It made being away from home a little easier.

Vase of Pussy Willows

Seeing this vase makes me feel like I’m home.

This is how I feel every February when I go up to my grandma’s house for my birthday and see a familiar white vase on the table, full of pussy willows and dangling red heart candies. I feel like a kid again, like I’ve come home from camp or a weekend slumber party.

Logically, it doesn’t make much sense because growing up I was never at my grandparents’ house this time of year — I was always in school. Instead they would fly to Alaska (on alternate years) to visit my brother and me for our birthdays. I was oblivious to the whole pussy willow/candy heart tradition until I was living in Portland and began spending my birthday weekends with them in Tacoma. Yet, there’s still a nostalgic feeling attached to those little gummy hearts.

Maybe it’s because the story connected to the vase and its enticing sweets is so familiar. Every year I hear about my uncle, who in his younger days used to pull all the hearts off their strings, leaving behind the empty circles of thread as evidence. My grandma loves to tell me this story and honestly, every year I enjoy hearing her recount the memory. It makes me feel connected knowing that traditions (along with having a sweet tooth) remain a constant in my family.

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Easy Breezy Valentines (AKA a simple way to kiss ass at work)

I come from a family that loves to give gifts. I realized this, with excitement, at a young age and have reveled in it ever since. My grandparents used to buy me a gift on my brother’s birthday (seriously!) and vice versa. We also got presents — not just candy — for Halloween, Valentines Day, Easter and, honestly, just for arriving at their house at the start of summer vacation.

I vividly remember getting out of car, suitcase in hand, and running into “my” bedroom to see what book was on my pillow, wrapped in my grandma’s trademark tissue paper. I guess the best word to describe me at this age would be spoiled. But hey, it was a book. It’s not like I got my own car or anything.

I also come from a family with plenty of affection for sweets so it’s no surprise that I love a well-stocked candy dish. One magically wonderful thing about my grandparents’ house is that every time I show up, there is a candy dish on my nightstand. As a kid, it used to contain M&Ms or Starbursts, with the occasional Swedish Fish thrown in for good measure. Since college, knowing my taste for tart candies, my dish has been filled with Sour Patch Kids and the like. There is really no better treat than candy at arms reach.

The reason I bring this up is because I also like to give random gifts and candy is generally a crowd-pleaser.

Since Valentines Day is a ridiculous holiday anyways, it’s a fun one to surprise people on. Last year I decided to try out this cute thing I had pulled out of a Martha Stewart Living magazine just a few weeks prior. It was not only an adorable idea but also affordable. And since I wanted to make one for each girl in my office, cheap was kind of a necessity.

I bought the cookie cutters, paper dish and goodie bags at JoAnns and put the gifts together the night before. They were so cute I felt the need to share the idea just in case you’re looking for a simple but tasty way to let someone in your office know you are thinking of them — especially when it’s in a positive way for once.

Candy Hearts

Finished and ready to gift!

The best part is you can tailor this for any holiday using different cookie cutters and candy colors. The possibilities are endless. Just remember — you get to eat all the leftovers, so don’t pick out any crappy candy flavors!