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What I Read – December 2016

What I Read – December 2016

December is a perfect month for some fun, lighthearted reading, am I right?  Of course, right!  And what a bonus if the books are ALSO powerful, funny, well-written, and clean.  I recently discovered new-to-me author Chautona Havig, and I’m just loving her stuff.

She summarizes her writing as “Christian fiction without apology or pretense — lived, not preached.”  That PERFECTLY describes her books!  Check out her bio and blog here.

I’ve been binge reading her Christmas stories.  So far I’ve read Carol and the Belles, 31 Kisses, and Christmas Stalkings.  The first of her books that I read was Corner Booth.  That one’s not a Christmas story, but it’s a good one!  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of them!  I posted a review of Corner Booth here.

Christmas Stalkings is one of the four novellas in Christmas Lights: A Collection of Inspiring Christmas Novellas.  The other three stories in this collection are:

  • The Heart of Joy by Vikki Kestell.  This one reminded me of a Grace Livingston Hill book; a little old fashioned but nice.
  • Snow Angels by Cathe Swanson.  A great story that begins with a misunderstanding and good intentions.
  • Trip the Light Fantastic by April Hayman.  What’s not to love about a clumsy FBI agent with a big heart?!?

Chautona JUST released her new book, New Year’s Revolutions, and it’s a joy to read as well.  One thing I love about her books is that each book is unique.  No formulaic stories for her!

I did read some non-Chautona books too!  Here they are:

The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry.  Oh my goodness, this one is FUNNY!  I dare you to try to read it out loud to your family!  I read this one every December and chortle every time.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien.  My daughter and I listened to the audiobook, and we recommend it in print!  The letters are great, but the music on the audiobook bugged us.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I read this years ago when I was growing up and didn’t like it at all.  I recently decided to give it another go, listened to the audiobook, and loved it. It’s painful in some spots, but boy is it good.  Sissy Spacek narrated this book and  gave a great performance.  Looking back,  I bet the book must have shocked me when I originally read it; I think I would have appreciated it more if I had discussed it with my parents.

Do you have any reading goals for 2017?  Have you ever revisited a book that just wasn’t right for you the first time you read it?  Do you like Christmas books?!?  Leave a comment and let me know!  I love talking about books!




Top Ten Posts of 2016 – My Favorites

Top Ten Posts of 2016 – My Favorites

Yesterday I shared the top ten most viewed posts on OutAndBack in 2016.  Today I took a few minutes to look back through all my posts and picked 10 personal favorites.  I’ve listed them in the order they were published.  ( The Letter R & the Elephant and Currently – December 2016 are favorites, but since they made yesterday’s list, I won’t include them here.)

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With all the visual and written media flying around these days, it can be hard to decide what to choose, what might be worth a little of our precious time.  Behold!  The Read::Watch::Listen::Follow link up!  My friend Sheila hosts this every month, and the linked posts are chock full of great recommendations.  Here are mine for this month.


READ:  I’ve read some GREAT books over the last few weeks!  I plan to post my “Books Read in November” list tomorrow, but today I want to give a shout out to Corner Booth by  Chautona Havig.  This is a fun story of a professor and the woman who invades his corner booth of a restaurant in order to skip the line at the door.  He’s recently been convicted that he talks way too much, so he determines to LISTEN to the woman; no talking (on his part), just listening.  And thus begins a sweet yet powerful story that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I finished it last night, and I was a little sad when I woke up this morning because I wasn’t going to get to hang out with all my new friends from this book today.  (Y’all know that feeling, right?!?)

WATCH:  My pastor shared this video with our church leadership team earlier this week, and I watched it this morning.  Wow.  Just WOW!  Francis Chan delivers a powerful challenge to all believers to  “climb the mountain” ourselves to spend time with God and not be satisfied with “hanging out with Moses” and hearing from God second hand.  Let’s just say I might have needed a tissue or two by the end of the message, and I’ve determined to lace up my spiritual hiking boots and start climbing.


LISTEN:  Last week I listened to the audiobook Still Alice, written and narrated by Lisa Genova.  This book is inspiring, heart breaking, and very well written.  It’s a novel that reads like a memoir and tells the story of a 50-year-old, wife/mother, Harvard professor who is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  I don’t want to say much more than that, but the construction of the book–how she tells the story–is amazing.  If someone close to you is dealing with this disease, this may not be the book for you right now.  And then again, maybe it is.  Note:  This isn’t the most dynamic audiobook I’ve ever listened to, but I don’t think it’s meant to be.  Since the author is also the narrator, she can read it just the way she wrote it.  It’s a straightforward book with a straightforward narration.  The genius is that a story written without excess, hyped-up drama is so very dramatic and powerful.


FOLLOW:  I started following Kampgrounds of America (KOA) on Instagram, and now I want to go camping every single day!  I’m a KOA girl.  I grew up camping at KOAs, and Gene and I have been known to plan trips around KOA locations!  The photos are fun, and they definitely inspire me to plan another trip SOON!  (I’m on Instagram as if you’d like to follow my adventures there as well as here.)

What are YOU reading, watching, listening to, and following?  Link up at Making the Most of Every Day and/or leave some comments for me!  This is always a fun discussion.  I enjoy your recommendations.

Currently – December 2016

Currently – December 2016

Hooray for a new Currently link up!  Here’s what I’m currently up to!

Doing:  Visiting new friends in beautiful Thomasville, Georgia!  I met some ladies at the #READSavannah event back in September, and two of them live in Thomasville.  I had been here once before and discovered a delightful downtown area with loads of unique shops and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.  (I’m looking at you, Jonah’s Fish and Grits!)  I’m here now to invest in these fledgling friendships and to eat more great food!  What a joy it’s been!  I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know Julie and Mary Jane better.


BONUS:  I was also able to meet up with Susie, a “virtual” friend of mine I met on the GYPO Style Challenges.  It was our first time to meet in real life!  Talk about a blessing!  Oh my!  So this friendship, too, has taken great leaps forward this weekend.  I thank God for prompting me to come and spend time with these ladies!

Susie and me in The Book Shelf! I love this book store! It's owned and run by Susie's daughter, Annie.
Susie and me in The Book Shelf! I love this book store! It’s owned and run by Susie’s daughter, Annie.  (Yes, I’m wearing LuLaRoe leggings again!)

Enjoying:  Eating my way through Thomasville!  I had lunch yesterday at Savannah Moon Bakery & Cafe; monster grilled cheese and tomato bisque!  Dinner last night was at Jonah’s.  The hush puppies were JUST as amazing as I remembered!  I nearly wept over them the first time I had them.  For real.  Last night I chose (along with hush puppies) grilled mahi and grits with tasso gravy and a side of collard greens.  Y’all!  I was one happy Michael Ann!  This morning I’m blogging from Grassroots Coffee, and in a minute I’m meeting Mary Jane at the Q Cafe for breakfast.  Lunch plans are to be determined.  I’m not ruling out a return trip to Jonah’s!


Cooking:  I tried a new pressure cooker recipe for Chicken Cacciatore last week, and it was a hit!  I used this recipe as a starting point and added a couple of cloves of garlic, a tablespoon or so of capers, and about 1/4 cup (maybe less) white wine.  I used chicken thighs and cooked the whole thing for 15 minutes as the recipe said, then served it over brown rice (cooked in my second pressure cooker).

Wrapping:  I’d love to say I’m wrapping up my Christmas shopping, but I’m just getting started!  Thomasville offers some amazing shopping!  Did I mention that already?

Firefly is one of my favorite shops in Thomasville. ONE of them!

Playing:  Christmas music.  Lots of it!  Jordan Smith’s album is still a frequent flier, and I just located my Christmas in Velvet album.  That was my favorite album when I was growing up (back when it really was a physical LP album!), and I still love it.

Link-up:  Be sure to click over to Anne and Kellie to see what they (and a lot of other fun folks) are CURRENTLY up to!


So, what are YOU currently doing, enjoying, cooking, wrapping, and playing?!?  DO tell in the comment section below!






It’s time for a fun link up with Sheila at Making the Most of Every Day to share what we’re reading, watching, listening to, and following!



READ:  Right now I’m reading Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.  Well, I’m listening to the audio book, so I’m going to count that as reading.  It’s a great book!  It tells the story of  ever-so-British Major (Retired) Ernest Pettigrew and his budding friendship with Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani woman who runs a shop in their village.  Major Pettigrew makes me laugh because he is so careful in everything he does.  One MUST follow the rules.  Mustn’t offend.  Must honor the old ways of doing things.  Right?

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What I Read in October 2016

What I Read in October 2016

I can’t believe how FEW books I read last month!  October was just nuts.  It started with a FANTASTIC friends reunion and then moved immediately to Hurricane Matthew.  Life froze for a week or two as we anticipated, rode out, and then recovered from that.  THEN the catch-up frenzy began.  Add a Write 31 Days blogging challenge into the mix, and let’s just say that I did not read my usual number of books in October, and the books I did read looked a lot different from my usual genres!  Here’s a summary of what I read!


Photo from Amazon.

Secrets of a Charmed Life by  Susan Meissner.  I met Susan at Read Savannah, a special reader/author event, in September.  She intrigued me immediately when she shared that part of this story involves a mom struggling to decide whether to send her kids out of World War II London to live with strangers in the hope of keeping them safe.  I first heard about the evacuation of children at an exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in London, and it broke my heart!  (Can you image having to make that kind of decision?!?)  This story actually begins years after World War II, but the bulk of the story plays out in the midst of the war.

Special Note:  Susan wrote THE best hook I’ve ever read!  I nearly came out of my chair (and may have yelled WHAT?!?), and the very same thing happened when my daughter read it.  (I got QUITE the text from her!)  Start reading the book.  You’ll know when you get there!  (I’ll hear you yelling WHAT?!?)

Secrets of a Charmed Life sits squarely in my wheelhouse of preferred book genres.  I love historical fiction, mysteries, police procedurals, and some thrillers, but after Hurricane Matthew I found myself craving gentler stories.  I remembered a review my friend Karla shared recently, and I quickly turned in that direction.


Photo from Amazon.

The Grace Livingstone Hill Collection by Grace Livingston Hill.  This is a collection of 16 books, and I’ve read 3 of them so far.  Grace Livingston Hill wrote her books in the early 1900s, so she employs a beautiful, older style of writing and language.  These stories are gentle and inspirational while still being exciting and suspenseful.  Just what my storm-weary heart needed!

The Enchanted Barn is the story of family is desperate need who makes a barn into a home, and gets blessed in some pretty special ways.

Exit Betty is the story of a wealthy, runaway bride who is forced to take refuge with a not-wealthy family she doesn’t know.

Marcia Schuyler brings a whole new level of “taking one for the team!”  She marries a man after her no-account sister jilts him at the altar.


Did YOU read any great books in October?  Please share your recommendations in the comments!  I’m always looking for more books to read!





Favorite Cookbooks, Part 2

Favorite Cookbooks, Part 2

Yesterday I showed you some of the first cookbooks I used.  One of them was the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  That is STILL my go-to cookbook, even after all these years!  Mama has–and still uses–the 1965 edition.  I bought a copy before I got married, and then later I upgraded to the 1996 edition.


Even if you have never cooked in your whole life, you could pick up this book and cook successfully.  The directions for the recipes are clearly explained, and the recipes run the gamut from scrambled eggs to sugar cookies to broiled lobster, and everything in between!

I go to my Fannie Farmer Cookbook when I need really solid, helpful information about food/cooking and when I need recipes for normal, everyday food.  Some of my favorite recipes are Chicken Tetrazzini, Cornbread, and Old-Fashioned Beef Stew.

Bonus Information:  Fannie Merrit Farmer, known as the mother of level measurements, first published her cookbook in 1896 as The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

For more trendy recipes–and olden goldies too–I go to Southern Living magazine.  My goodness, can these people cook!  This is the only magazine I subscribe to right now, and I look forward to getting it every month.  I grab a glass of tea and snuggle onto the sofa for a nice, long read!


I shared my most favorite Southern Living recipe with you here.  I’m having a blast with their fall baking recipes, and I just got the November issue which is chock full of Thanksgiving recipes!  The Thanksgiving recipes aren’t on their website yet, so get thee to the supermarket and buy a print copy of this issue, pronto!

Bonus Information:  Rick Bragg’s article, the last thing in every issue, is just the BEST!  It’s funny and heartwarming and just a really satisfying read.  I make myself wait and save it for last!

What are YOUR favorite cookbooks or sources for recipes?  Please share in the comments below!  I love follow-up conversations after a blog post!

This is Day 19 of the Write 31 Days blogging challenge and Michael Ann’s Kitchen!  Thanks for stopping by!



Favorite Cookbooks, Part 1

Favorite Cookbooks, Part 1

We’re trekking back in time again today!  Here is the cookbook I grew up with!  I mean THE cookbook I grew up with!



This is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and it is the first cookbook I remember using.  As I said the other day, Mama taught me that if I could follow a recipe, I could cook or bake anything I wanted to!  And she was right!  (Here are the basic rules for cooking she shared with me.)

Don’t you love the messy pages of a well-used cookbook?!?


My sweet mother helped me out today by sending these pictures of the cookbook to me–thank you, Mama!–and then she sent me another picture of a set of cookbooks I had forgotten all about!  The Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery.


She asked me if I remembered them, and I DO!  It seems like they were slightly “fancier” than Fannie Farmer was, and it seems like I enjoyed reading through them.

THEN she told me a story I had never heard before!  She said that Daddy didn’t really think she could cook when they got married.  (“HOW did he know?” she asked!)  He worked at Winn-Dixie (a grocery store) while putting himself through Bible college and taking care of Mama.  Winn-Dixie offered this set of cookbooks as a buy-a-volume-a-week promotion, and he DID buy a volume each week for her!  All 12 volumes!

She said that at the time he did NOT say out loud that he thought she might not be able to cook, but apparently they’ve laughed about it through their 48 years (and counting!) years of marriage!  She said they turned out to be her go-to books in a lot of ways, along with Fannie Farmer!

Tomorrow I’ll share MY current go-to cookbooks, and yes, Fannie Farmer is one of them!

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen today!  I hope you’ll pop back in tomorrow!


This is Day 18 of Michael Ann’s Kitchen, my series for the Write 31 Days blogging challenge.  Check out the series page to find links for each day’s topics.