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Women embark on memorable cookie swap

Gail Braxton (left) and Kathleen Glass look at eggs dyed by glass during a recent cookie swap at Glass’ River Bluffs home in Spotsylvania County. / Photos by Peter Cihelka

Kathleen Glass tries to shoo her longtime friends to other rooms in her house—maybe the living room, where a Christmas tree is decorated with pet-themed ornaments—but as is apt to happen, most gather in the kitchen.

That’s where they’ve placed dozens of festive bags and boxes. Cookies, bars and bark are nestled inside the holiday wrappings, Christmas treats to swap later in the afternoon.

There’s the star-shaped shortbread that Gail Braxton makes every year—the group pretty much insists that she bring it. She knows the three-ingredient recipe by heart.

Ginny Lewis offered a decadent brownie topped with pecans, marshmallows and and fudge. “I’m a chocoholic,” she says, describing it as “very slimming.”

Glass kept it simple this year—a chocolate mint bark with crushed pretzels that required dropping a cookie pan on the counter. The bark got rave reviews.

Mint bark with crushed pretzels, shortbread cookies and other sumptuous treats are the featured guests at event.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Tasting doesn’t take place until after lunch, a light affair served in Glass’ dining room, the chandelier and windows decorated with greens cut from her own yard.

Since 1987, this cookie swap has been an excuse for the women to get together, though some women see each other throughout the year, not all do.

“This may be the only time of the year I still see the others,” said Glass, who everyone knows as “Leeny.” “It’s very special.”

The ladies get creative with intricate decorations and fancy wrap to make their sweet treats that much more festive.

A lot can happen in a year—one highlight this mid-December afternoon was Nancy Cherwek’s 5-month-old granddaughter.

Even more happens over 26 years. That’s how long these women—mostly wives of doctors—have been celebrating Christmas cookie exchanges together. They’ve oohed and aahed over new babies, raised children and watched them move around the country, and now they ogle over smartphone photos of new grandbabies.

Some are in garden and book clubs together, others get together fairly often and a few might not see each other until the next exchange. The women all say that Glass is a very special person, the glue that brings them together during the holidays.


After growing up outside Philadelphia and attending the University of Virginia, Leeny Glass and her husband, Ted, moved to Fredericksburg in 1985.

They found a stretch of land along the Rappahannock River. There, they built a beautiful, spacious house on an 8-acre lot off River Road in Spotsylvania, an ideal spot for her two happy golden retrievers to explore and swim, and raised three children, now all grown.

That’s about the time when Glass decided to start entertaining more. Having always enjoyed cookie swaps, she decided to host one herself.

The first year, seven women attended; then eight, 10 and a few years later, 12. Glass capped it there, and though not everyone can come each year, no one’s cut.

“Once you’re on the list, you’re on it forever,” she said.

In a cabinet drawer in the dining room, she keeps lists from over the years, handwritten on sheets of notebook paper, a record of who was there, what was served, the cookies shared. (This year’s lunch was a shrimp–pasta casserole, with fruit salad and garlicky rolls.)

Sometimes there are repeats, but Glass believes they all know each other well enough that it’s not about the meal.

“I don’t think they really mind all that much,” Glass said before the party, but then apologized to the group for what she thought the lunch casserole lacked.

“It’s just a really nice thing, and they’re all really good friends of mine.”

Two years ago, Glass was in the hospital over Christmas for surgery on a brain tumor that she’s had for six years now. Her friends decorated her house, put up her four trees and hung ornaments. They filled the freezer with cookies, and then took down decorations when the holidays were over.

Glass doesn’t like to talk about her health problems and the side effects, like losing some of her vision. Best friend Ginny Lewis says she characterizes them as “minor inconveniences.”

A clinical trial that requires weekly trips to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville has the tumor under control now.

“Her attitude about life and living has inspired us all,” Lewis said. checking on this still


Each guest made six dozen cookies for this year’s exchange—a half-dozen are for tasting, and the rest are packed up in bags and boxes for taking home. Some get shared, but many get stashed in the freezer for personal snacking.

Tiered trays are passed around the table after lunch dishes are cleared. Everyone is encouraged to try all the varieties.

There’s a cranberry–oat– white-chocolate drop cookie and a chocolate-chip–pecan cookie.

Ann Harry made a pecan bar from “The Joy of Cooking,” a recipe that she’d made in years past. Mary Elizabeth McManus brought two varieties of brownies—one with a candy bar in the middle, and the other with a layer of green creme de menthe and topped with chocolate icing. Pretty candy-cane blossoms are topped with holiday Hershey kisses, and orange and lemon wafers are chewy and crisp. Talk turns to past cookie failures, like the year with the green cornflake wreaths. Time passed faster than the friends realized, and, once the cookies were tasted, gift bags were picked up and a group photo was shot, it was time for hugs and goodbyes.

Until next year.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975



Rivaling the cookies may be the Pysanka eggs, delicate Ukranian blown eggs decorated with wax and layers of dye. They’re so lovely, you’d think they’ve been picked up at a gift shop, not handmade by Kathleen Glass.

She’s been making them for a number of years, at least 10, she thinks.

An egg sits at each seat at Glass’ annual cookie exchange, drawing the group of women to the living room to pick out which one they’ll take home. At least one gets claimed immediately, a pillbox to mark the seat.

The eggs are all different—some have geometric shapes in warm colors, others are floral and some look like Christmas itself.

Glass draws on the blown eggs with melted wax. Anything that is covered with this first layer will remain white. The egg gets dipped in dye, and then she draws more on it. “The tricky thing is, you’re covering everything so it’s hard to envision what it’ll look like,” Glass said.

Over the years, her designs have become more intricate and more colorful, evident from the collections displayed on the dining room table. Each egg requires about 1 1/2hours to dye.



2 cups softened butter

1 cup sugar

4 cups + 2 tablespoons flour


1. Cream together butter and sugar.

2. Add flour slowly by hand. Mix well.

3. Roll out on floured surface, and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.

4. Bake about 20 minutes at 275 degrees.

Recipe from: Gail Braxton