Haymount Homes Valentine's Day Cookie Exchange
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Cookies make me smile.  Do they make you smile?  It's even hard to say the word "cookie" without a least a little grin squeezing its way in.

There are so many reasons to love cookies.  I think my love of cookies started while growing up with a mother that made everything (I think I mean EVERYTHING) from scratch.  I was one of seven kids and we were always allowed to help in the kitchen.  It is no accident that we all learned to love cookies.  My mom was known for her "famous chocolate chip cookies" and the neighborhood kids seemed to always be aware when there was a batch in the oven.  People were always impressed that she had not produced them from a refrigerated roll of dough, but rather had taken the time to create them on her own.

Of course, my love of baking grew from that kitchen and continued on through high school, college, and now into my adult life.  The tradition continues as I have two daughters that are pretty passionate about baking.  My oldest, Annika, has visions of her own bakery some day.  At times it is difficult to keep up with the ingredients in our home as the girls burn through them crafting their new creations and testing their own recipes. 

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The obvious benefits of baking are the delicious outcomes and beautiful treats, but I believe that baking offers us much more.  Baking brought me closer with my family growing up and it is bringing my children closer to me now.  We spend time together dreaming of ideas, working as a team to narrow our vision, and then executing our plan to achieve an outcome we've all agreed upon.  The teamwork that results is a pretty incredible benefit from such a simple task.  There are even other studies to show that baking has health benefits such as relieving stress and lowering blood pressure (that is baking part anyway, the whole "eating the cookies" thing at the end might offset that a bit :) 

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Baking brings people together in another way: sharing the fruits of your labor.  One of our family's favorite things are holiday parties where we share our baked goods with family and friends.  Traditionally, we always tried to do this at Christmas, making lots of treats for family and friends.  Unfortunately, Christmas can get busy and parties are so numerous that everyone seems to be rushed, making it difficult to squeeze in another event.  My kids love to decorate cookies, and Christmas is no exception.  Although we still decorate Christmas cookies, it often gets difficult to share them with everyone during the rush of the holidays, and it leaves you feeling like your hard work is a bit lost.

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Because of this chaos, we started focusing our main baking efforts to Valentine's Day.  February is a slower month with less obligations and events, allowing us more time to enjoy the process.  Plus, Valentine's Day is all about love and we love baking, cookies, and friends.  What better way to celebrate than to host a Valentine's Day Cookie Exchange?  Though we don't do the party every year, we definitely make plenty of cookies for the season either way.  We have found that people have more time to pour themselves into the process and enjoy their time together during Valentine's Day because they don't have ten other parties to attend during the same season.

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You don't have to host the party on the actual day of Valentine's Day, but sometime around the month of February.  If you are unfamiliar with a cookie exchange, allow me to educate you on how the party works.  It's pretty simple. 

  • Create your guest list and confirm the attendants. 
  • Each guest is to make a dozen cookies (or half dozen - just decide the number based on what you think is appropriate for the size of your guest list) for each member on the list. (ex: if you have 5 total guests, then each of you will make 5 dozen cookies).
  • Everyone brings their cookies to the party and you exchange the cookies. 
  • Everyone leaves with five dozen cookies, all of different types!
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Simple!!  There are no rules (unless you want to create them!) but you can open it up to cookies, treats, bars or whatever makes sense for you.  During the party, you can offer other food and treats, drinks, or simple just enjoy the cookies. You can have guests pre-wrap the cookies into their pre-sorted dozens to make the exchange simple, or you can turn it into a game to select the cookies.  You will be surprised how cute people decide to wrap up their treats, or how fun the games can be to choose the cookies.  It's pretty simple.  Just have fun with it and enjoy your time together.  One additional thing we did at our last party is offer little paper hearts to our guests so that they could write "things they loved" on the hearts and then we put them up on the wall.  It was fun to see what made the list - both from adults and children alike!

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I hope baking and cookies bring you as many happy memories as they bring me.  It's been fun to watch my children create, make mistakes, and try again.  I think back to the time that I was eight years old and making my mom's famous chocolate chip cookies.  My mom was in the other room folding laundry, so this was a pretty independent project (or at least in my eight year old head it was).  I told my mom that I needed more salt for my cookies, but that we were out of salt.  She seemed confused as she knew we had plenty of salt.  Mom, being the great mom she was, simply replied, "How much salt do you need?"  Confident in my measuring, I brought my one cup measuring cup 4/5 full of salt into the room where she was.  I showed her my nearly filled cup, and proudly stated (again) that we needed more salt.  She smiled and said, "I think you should look at the recipe again.  You might be confusing the salt with the sugar."  Whoops.  As usual, she was right, saving my recipe from complete disaster.  She helped me find my error with grace and kindness, rather than leaving me feeling inadequate and inept.  To this day, I have never added a cup of salt to another recipe; lesson learned!

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It is through error that we learn.  I am thankful that I had a mom willing to teach me.  I try to remember this when my children are baking.  There will be mistakes, messes, and frustration, but through it all, we grow closer and learn to be better.  Then, even if imperfect, we can share those efforts of love with people we love.  

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If baking is any labor at all, it’s a labor of love. A love that gets passed from generation to generation.
— Regina Brett

I hope you will give a Valentine's Day Cookie Exchange a try, or at least, jump into a new tradition of Valentine's Day cookie decorating.  When we step back from life and take the time to bake, we create a lot more than cookies.  We create relationships and joy that extend far beyond the kitchen.  Life is busy, no doubt, but cookies always seem to slow it down a little bit and offer a moment to smile. 

Do you love to bake? Did you have someone teach you? Are you teaching your kids? What are you doing to celebrate Valentine's Day?  I would love to know!

- Casey