Friday Favorites – April Showers


Happy Friday, friends!

Has anyone else just been feeling weird this week? Is there some funky planetary alignment thing throwing everyone off balance, or is it me? I had way less work than usual this week (for example, 7 otel descriptions to write instead of the 40-50 I’ve gotten used to) and yet I’ve still been amazingly unproductive. All that sounds good is reading and logic puzzles on my phone. (Wow, subtract the phone part of that and I’m also describing 7th grade me! Maybe I should give in and get some Saddle Club books and early 90s mom jeans?)

Speaking of books, let’s get into this week’s first favorite thing…

1. One Part Plant by Jessica Murnane showed up in my mailbox yesterday (“showed up” = I begged the publisher for a review copy) and I’m already obsessed. I’ll write about it for real for May’s Show Us Your Books post, but I fully intend to spend a good chunk of today flipping through the recipes and making a grocery list for the shopping trip I have planned this weekend. (Living in Middle of Nowhere, MO means I make a monthly 50-ish mile pilgrimage to Springfield because there’s basically just Walmart and two small overpriced grocery stores where I live. I have to drive an hour just get to a freaking Super Target where I can buy the basics I like. Have I ever mentioned how much I miss Orlando???)

Wow, that was a tangent. ANYWAY – I’ve pretty much always identified a a person who dislikes vegetables, but I also really don’t lie feeling terrible all of the time, so I’m going to try as many of the book’s plant-based recipes as possible over the next couple of weeks and see how it goes.  I’ll share what I try when I do the boo review!

Now, kindly disregard what I just said about healthy eating and let’s move on to #2…


2. Discounted Easter candy = yay! Walgreens somehow had both the Cadbury Caramel Eggs and the mini cream eggs for 50% off when I went, so I’ve been a very happy woman.

3. Not a great pic, but I found the perfect denim shorts for this summer at Target. I was playing around with ideas for a post about music festival fashion and just grabbed them to try on with the tops I was checking out, but ended up liking the shorts more than anything else! They’re mid-rise with a 4″ inseam and super comfy. Also, they’re only 20 bucks.  (The tank top is here and kimono is here, if you dig either.)

4. TRIP PLANNING. I have incurable wanderlust, and while I can’t get away for a “real” vacation rght now, I decided that a night or two away somewhere near by would be perfect, so I started planning a trip to the quirky old town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is about an hour away. There are so many cool B&B’s and historic hotels there that it makes my little hotel nerd head spin. The one I’d most like to stay at is a former bordello with a totally phallic neon sign:

Nothing suggestive here…

A lot of the local hotels claim to be haunted (Especially the Crescent, which was formerly a boarding school, cancer hospital run by a total quack doctor, and mental asylum. I’m not 100% on whether ghosts are real or not, but I do know that my camera broke the last time I visited, and my then 3 year old niece kept asking to go back up to the 3rd floor”where all those people were”. There was nobody else there.) but the Palace’s resident ghost is said to have died “in the throes of passion”, so  think we’d be buds.

I also REALLY want to revisit this gorgeous place:

You can read about my last visit to Blue Spring Heritage Center here!

So there I was, a million browser tabs deep into planning a little getaway when I found out that I get to attend a media event at the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas the beginning of June! So now instead of planning one NW Arkansas trip, I’m planning two! It makes my former concierge heart very happy.

5. Tomorrow is Earth Day (be sure to check out the Google Doodle!) so as a totally seasonally appropriate favorite, my #5 is the awesome eco-friendly cat litter made from walnuts that I’ve been using the past couple of weeks. A light nutty scent when you walk past the litter box instead of the usually chemical-y fragrance? Big thumbs up. I have a giveaway going on where you can win a bag to try out, so go enter, fellow cat ladies!

Let’s be friends on Instagram! –> 


Friday Link-Up Fun:

Friday blog linkup


Natural Cat Litter Review & Giveaway {What On Earth Giveaway Hop – ends 4/30}

Earth day giveaway hop


You’ve probably noticed that I share the new cat food and treats that I try out on a pretty regular basis. As a certified Crazy Cat Lady, I love experimenting with different products to see which ones my cats love, and if there’s anything new out there that will make taking care of them easier.  I rarely try out new litters, though, because I’m allergic to a lot of fragrances and most kitty litter is loaded with it. Even most natural litters are out because I’m allergic to pine and cedar. (Thanks a lot, nose!)

When I got an e-mail from that mentioned Blue Buffalo’s walnut-based Naturally Fresh line of cat litter, I knew I wanted to give it a try. I ended up being a big fan, and since it’s eco-friendly I decided it would be the perfect fit for an Earth Day themed giveaway!

Thanks so much to Chewy for supplying the litter featured in this post in exchange for an honest review, and also providing the giveaway prize!

Natural cat litter review

Most cat litter is anything but “natural”, so you might be wondering why this one is considered good for the planet. Just a few of the reasons this walnut-based litter is healthier for you and the environment include:

  • Non-Toxic
  • 100% Biodegradable – You can even compost it!
  • Chemical Free
  • Low Dust

It’s also super absorbent, so each bag lasts longer than a similar sized bag of traditional litter. I was surprised to discover that the price is just a little bit higher than I pay for my regular litter, so when you factor in how much longer it lasts, it actually ends up being more budget-friendly AND better for the environment! Awesome!

walnut based cat litter

It looks a little bit like oversized coffee grounds!

This litter comes in several different varieties, including one that helps attract kittens to the litter box, two varieties for multi-cat households (scented and unscented), and a pellet-style non-clumping variety. I chose to try out the “Herbal Attract” kind, which is formulated with herbal ingredients designed to entice cats that are stubborn about using the box.

I grabbed Tennyson to be my guinea pig (or whatever the kitty version of that would be called?) since he’s the one most likely to do his business somewhere other than the litter box. (Thaaaanks, Ten.) I plopped him in the box, he sniffed the new litter for a few seconds, and then immediately did his thing. Success!

Cat Lady Pro Tip: Any time you’re trying out a different litter than your cats are used to, I suggest setting up one litter box with the new litter, and leaving one with what they’re used to. Cats can have really unpleasant ways of showing you they don’t like a new litter!

One of the absolute BEST features of this litter is that it’s designed not to stick to your cat’s feet, so they don’t track it all over the house once they hop out of the box. I’m pretty sure my vacuum bags are usually filled with like 70% cat fur and 20% litter (and 10% whatever else) so I appreciate the litter making my housekeeping easier!

I don’t usually notice much litter box odor on my house (I’m totally blind to it by now), but over the past few days that I’ve been using this litter, I keep noticing the LACK of odor as I pass by the box. I guess that my brain is used to unconsciously registering a litter-y scent in that part of the house, so it’s all confused that it now smells nothing!

Ordering your cat litter (or any pet products, really!) from Chewy is awesome because you get free 1-2 day shipping on orders over $50, and you can save an extra 5% if you set up reoccurring orders for products you use regularly. Score! They also carry a HUGE line of products – just browsing through their site is one of my favorite ways to discover what’s new in the world of pet products.

Why else is Chewy awesome? Well, they’re hooking one of you guys up with a FREE bag of Blue Buffalo Naturally Fresh Walnut-Based cat litter! No carrying heavy bags of litter home from the store like a peasant – this awesome eco-friendly litter is going to show up right on your doorstep! Woohoo!

This giveaway is open to those within the contiguous US (due to shipping) and runs until 11:59 PM Eastern on April 30th, 2017. All entries are optional, so do as many or a few as you’d like. Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Ready for even more awesome news? This giveaway is part of the What On Earth Giveaway Hop, so after you enter you can visit the other participating blogs to enter to win dozens of other fun prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Welcome to the What On Earth Giveaway Hop

In honor of celebrating our beautiful planet, MamatheFox has put together an article titled Thinking Green, which features the differences between reusable and non reusable items. Graciously, a TON of green and eco-friendly companies sponsored a huge MamatheFox Earth Day Giveaway with $175 in prizes! Click here to enter to win the GRAND PRIZE VALUED AT $175

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Relaxing at Bar M Lake Resort Near Branson

Have you ever had one of those weeks when life gets so busy and overwhelming that nothing sounds better than escaping for a few nights in a quiet cabin in the woods? I’ve had so much going on lately that a day off relaxing near the lake sounded beyond amazing, so when Bar M Resort & Campground offered to host me for a night, I was super excited! With a variety of cabin sizes and gorgeous natural setting, this lake resort near Branson is the perfect escape!

A-frame cabins on Table Rock Lake near Branson

Table Rock Lake Cabins

I stayed in one of the resort’s A-Frame cabins, which has two bedrooms and two fold-out sofas, sleeping up to 9 people total. With rates starting at $125 in low season, it’s a crazy good bargain, especially since it also has a kitchen with full-sized appliances, dishes, silverware, etc. I know how hard it can be just to find a hotel room for a family of 5, so this is basically the jackpot if you’re traveling with multiple kids or doing a friends getaway where you don’t want to splurge on multiple hotel rooms!

Want the tour? Let’s go!

Read more »

Show Us Your Books – April Edition

Happy Show Us Your Books Day! I’ve been SO busy writing lately that I haven’t had much time to read, so I only have two book reviews to share with you guys this month. They’re good ones, though!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links because coffee and cat food are expensive. I received both of these books compliments of the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews. 

The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan

Amazon * Goodreads

I think we’ve all fantasized about selling everything we own and taking off to travel the world. If you’re a fan of travel books like I am, you’ve probably read at least half a dozen by authors who did exactly that. This travelogue has an interesting twist, though. Before leaving on her trip, the author is given an envelope of money by friends and encouraged to give the money away throughout the trip in whatever way she wants. What results is a different lens through which to view the people she encounters, as well as an interesting meditation on the act of giving and how it makes us feel.

I was impressed by the author’s honesty about her thoughts and actions. She reveals a lot, particularly about interactions with her husband, that would generally make her a less likable “character”. I’d be curious to hear how you guys felt she came across. I eventually decided that revealing her less noble side showed both an interesting level of self-awareness and a vulnerability that’s hard not to appreciate. It would have been so much easier to only share the stories that made her look good and thus lessen the likelihood of judgment – something we see a lot of in the world of social media – but she instead chose to commit her flaws to the page, and  admire the bravery in that.

Good writing, interesting story. Grab it if you’re a fan of travel memoirs or need a good read on your upcoming summer travels.


A Colony In a Nation by Chris Hayes

Amazon * Goodreads

A Colony In A Nation takes a look at the two very different justice systems that you might encounter in America, depending on where you live, how much money you have, and most influential of all, the color of your skin. The fact that our criminal justice system is broken isn’t news to anyone. We have far more incarcerated people than any other country, and the past couple of years have brought issues to light on what feels like a regular basis.

I still remember the time that Chris Hayes had to pause mid-sentence as he walked down a street in Ferguson, MO because a police officer had just threatened to mace him if he continued walking that direction. Sure, he was on live TV, but he’s a super threatening-looking dude, right?

A post shared by Crystal Ward (@crystalward11) on

He’s also so adorable that if you find yourself taking a selfie with him, you may end up looking super derpy because you’re checking him out on your iPhone screen instead of, you know, looking at the camera. Oops.

The images of Ferguson we saw on the news, which looked so much more like the latest dystopian movie than a small city just a few hours from where I grew up, were eye opening for many of us. For Chris, the experience covering the events in Ferguson, as well as reporting on what felt like an endless stream of protests following the deaths of other unarmed black men, sparked the idea that became this book.

I highlighted so many passages while reading this, and I felt like my mind was blown at least a few times per chapter. Often, I was highlighting relatively simple sentences that had caused me to pause and get lost in thought. Things like, “If a cop shoots someone because he is angry, he is a murderer. But if he shoots a suspect because he is afraid, he is innocent.”  Can such huge topics of morality and ethics really come down to human emotion? And if not, what does determine innocence vs guilt? And if we follow that chain of thought, in how many circumstances is fear a valid reason for innocence? “I ran the stop light because I was afraid the car behind me was following me home.” seems more likely to be seen a justified than “I stole the money because I was afraid of not being able to afford rent and ending up homeless.” But both are unlawful actions based on fear, and you could argue that the latter has more potential to end in finding oneself in a dangerous situation that the former. Where is the line?

The writing manages to be both incredibly smart and easy to understand. It’s a deep dive into a serious topic, but it doesn’t feel at all like the kind of super dense nonfiction that takes forever to get through. Instead, the writing style is approachable and engaging.

So many topics were broached that I’d never given much thought to, such as how different it is to be a police officer in the US, where guns outnumber people, compared to almost any other first world country. My first thought was that I’d never given topics like mass incarceration, how it’s affected by the “War on Drugs”, and how the prevalence of guns in the US plays into it all much thought because I was born into circumstances where those things don’t come up in my everyday life often, if ever. (The only unusual law-related experience I’ve ever had was getting pulled over for expired tags as I was pulling into the parking lot of the DMV to renew them. I could go off on a huge tangent here about how we punish people for being poor. Cant’t afford the $25 to renew your tags? Here’s a $100 ticket!) Eventually, I realized that it’s also because a lot of the changes that led to the current system happened in the 80s, which means that those of us who are under 40 have simply never known things to be any other way.

Given the current political climate, I think it’s more important than ever to seek out information on what it’s like to have a different experience of being American than the one we know. It’s important to educate ourselves about the topics that come up in political debates so that when a candidate throws out something that’s just not true, we know. Whether you agree with the author’s politics or not, I’d suggest picking this book up, taking in both the  facts and the personal experiences presented, and giving them real thought.  If this isn’t the kind of topic you’re usually interested in, I’d double that recommendation.


Head over to Life According to Steph and Jana Says to check out what dozens of other bloggers participating in the Show Us Your Books link-up have been reading this month! And be sure to stop by tomorrow – I’m sharing my experience of escaping life’s craziness by running off to a cabin in the woods for a night.

Friday Favorites – April Showers


Happy April, everyone!


1. All of my U2 nerd friends have been freaking out over a new graphic tee at Target that says Shine Like Stars, because Bono occasionally adds an extra verse onto the end of With Or Without You that begins with those words and it’s amazing. (The rest of the lyrics are rarely the same.)

Found a video of it from a show I was actually at a few years ago. I was holding up a “HI EDGE!” sign at the end of this song and he waved at me, thus making it possible for me to die happy.


It’s a whopping $12.99 at Target, or $12.34 if you use a Red Card. I had a $5 Target gift card from MyPoints, so I basically paid seven bucks for a shirt that makes me very happy. YAY.


2. On a whim, I checked out a lakeside park a bit farther from my house than the one I usually go to. It turned out to be an amazing place to watch the sunset from! I somehow managed to take 285 photos of one sunset. I regret nothing.

This one of water attacking my phone while I was trying to get a cool pic makes me laugh and is thus my favorite.


A post shared by Crystal Ward (@crystalward11) on

3. I mentioned last week that the cats absolutely destroyed the bag of food that Chewy sent them, so I wasn’t able to do much of a real review.  Luckily, they also received a case of this Taste of the Wild canned food, and although Sam has thumbs he hasn’t yet figured out how to use them to open cans!

Taste of the Wild chicken salmon venison cat food

Fawn got to be the “model” for this week’s food. She was an enthusiastic participant! Look at that little tongue!

Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Cat food from chewy

I know the chunks of meat look huge next to her head, but keep in mind that despite being about a year old now, she’s still about the size of the average burrito, so… perspective. My cats definitely prefer chunky food to pate, so this was a hit! We got the “Rocky Mountain” flavor which has salmon, chicken liver, and roasted venison.  I don’t think they’ve ever had food with venison in it before, but they were all fans. Thumbs up from me (and Sam, who is the only cat with thumbs. Not sure what the others give to show approval?)


4. Wendy Davis fav’d my tweet, and it gave me hope that my glorious vision for the future could really come true.


If only Liz had faved it, too!


5.  I really miss having a Mustang. (I drove them pretty much from the time I was 17 until when I totaled my beloved convertible named Apple on black ice about two years ago.) I stopped by a local dealership to drool over the 2017s, and although I usually go for the silver or dark blue, this black one was just plain sexy for lack of a better description.

On my freelance writer income, I should be able to afford a 2017 Mustang by approximately 2027! 😂

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