After countless hours of preparation, Christmas is here!

For the past few weeks, shopping, cooking and holiday get-togethers have been at the top of everyone’s list of things to do. I just hope I am ready, and I know that you do, too.

I often begin to feel guilty about how much emphasis we put on material possessions and forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. There is one Christmas tradition I keep every year. I read my favorite short story by O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi.” I shared this story with my fifth and sixth grade classes on one of the last days of school.

Here’s what the story is about: A young married couple in the late 1800s was living in love and poverty. His only possession of any worth was a pocket watch. Hers was her beautiful, knee-length raven hair. Neither had money to buy a Christmas gift for the other. He sells his watch to purchase jeweled combs for his wife’s hair. Unknowingly, she cuts and sells her hair to have money to by a chain for her husband’s pocket watch.

My students, who love for me to read aloud to them, immediately understood the irony and unselfish acts that the young couple had performed. Every year when I read this story, it touches my heart and brings tears to my eyes.

We began to discuss gift giving. I had my students get out a sheet of paper to write a paragraph in class. I told them I was going to put two different titles on the board. They were to choose one and write a paragraph telling why they chose that particular title. The two titles were “It is Better to Give than to Receive” or “It is Better to Receive.” You should have seen the looks on their faces!

They really didn’t know which one to choose and didn’t want to seem greedy. A majority of the students chose the last title — at least they were honest. One student wrote that when you give, you usually receive something anyway. My favorite comment was “When you give somebody something, it makes you tingle inside.” We had one hilarious class discussion about giving and receiving.

I want to wish everyone a safe and merry Christmas. Hope you enjoy this week’s recipes.


½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium)

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained

1 cup flaked coconut

1 cup (6-ounce package) semisweet chocolate chips

2/3 cup sliced almonds, divided

½ cup chopped maraschino cherries

½ cup chopped dates

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with bananas. Stir in the oranges, coconut, chocolate chips, ½ cup almonds, cherries and dates. Pour into two greased loaf pans. Sprinkle tops with remaining almonds. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.


1 box red velvet cake mix, plus the ingredients to make the cake

32 ounces ricotta cheese

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup sugar

1 (5.1-ounce) box instant cheesecake pudding or white chocolate pudding mix

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup cold milk

1 (8-ounce) container Cool Whip

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Prepare red velvet cake according to package directions. Pour batter into prepared dish. Using a hand mixer, beat together the ricotta cheese, eggs, vanilla and sugar, and beat until smooth. Carefully spread over cake batter in the baking dish. Bake for one hour, and remove from oven. Allow to cool completely. Using a hand mixer, beat the pudding mix, cream cheese and milk. Carefully fold in the Cool Whip. Spread on top of the cooled cake. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.


1 package yellow cake mix

1 (3¾-ounce) package vanilla instant pudding mix

4 eggs

½ cup cold water

½ cup dark rum

½ cup vegetable oil

Rum Glaze:

1 stick butter

¼ cup water

1 cup sugar

½ cup dark Rum

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Mix cake mix, pudding, eggs, water, rum and oil until smooth. Pour into prepared pan, and bake for one hour. To prepare glaze: Melt butter in saucepan, and stir in water and sugar. Boil for five minutes, and remove from heat. Stir in rum. While cake is still hot, pierce holes in cake all the way to the bottom. Pour the glaze over the cake while the glaze and the cake are still hot and in the cake pan. Allow time for the cake to cool and soak up all the glaze before removing it from the pan.

Contact Lee Ann Flemming at

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