Review: Open Book by Jessica Simpson

I’ve been a fan of Jessica Simpson since she burst onto the 2000s pop scene amongst the Britneys and Christinas of the MTV TRL era. When Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica premiered, I was hooked. This was back in the earliest days of reality tv when every single moment wasn’t scripted, and Jessica’s off-the-cuff one-liners never failed to crack me up. 

I’ve always felt like a kindred spirit with Jessica. Our birthdays are just 5 days apart (same year), we both grew up evangelical, we both married young (she at 22 and I at 21), and we were going through our respective divorces around the same time. Suffice it to say, Jessica is my girl and always will be.

In her memoir Open Book, Jessica shares the deepest pain that no one should ever have to face: childhood sexual abuse, addiction, disordered eating, body shaming, and toxic romantic relationships, to name a few. (Spoiler alert: John Mayer continues to be trash.)

What I’ve always appreciated about Jessica—alongside her powerful vocal talent—is her candor and sincerity. In Open Book, you meet the mature woman she’s become after enduring the worst that life can offer anyone, let alone a celebrity constantly under media scrutiny.

In addition to her personal life and music career, you’ll get a glimpse into how Jessica aka Successica built her fashion line, the Jessica Simpson Collection, into a billion-dollar brand. This was eye-opening for me, to see how personally involved she is in the pieces that make up her collection.

I listened to the audio version and Jessica tears up during many stories in the book, especially those about abuse and her various struggles as an adult. You’ll hear the sincerity and authenticity in her stories as she shares the pain and joy of her life thus far. She’s had struggles, but she’s also had triumphs, like finding love again and becoming a mother. Through it all, she shares the foundation of her faith that’s seen her through the toughest times in her life.

At the end of the audio are six new songs that inspired the memoir. Having journaled since she was 15, Jessica had plenty of material to mine from, for both the book and songs. Her new music stands apart from her previous work as more mature and introspective than anything she’s created before.

If you’re a diehard Jessica fan like me, you’ll devour this memoir. If you watched Newlyweds, this book is a well-rounded epilogue to that time in Jessica’s life, post-Nick. It feels kind of weird to say it, but as a fan who’s followed her entire career, I‘m proud of Jessica for speaking her truth and doing so with the intent of helping others who might find themselves in the same situation.

Rating: 5 stars

Suddenly the Crazy Cat Lady is Me

In my previous post, I mentioned the farm cats at the Airbnb we stayed in at Shenandoah. So…my whole life, I’ve never been a cat person. I’ve always been a dog person.

As an adult, I raised two dogs, Orion and Autumn. Losing them hit me extremely hard, first Orion in 2015 and more recently, Autumn in May 2019. So I kind of swore off adopting another pet for the foreseeable future. And that was somewhat the intention of the Shenandoah trip: a chance for Michael and me to enjoy each other’s company without having to worry about all the usual pet parent types of obligations.

Needless to say, during our trip, I fell in love. With a cat!

It started at the farm with one kitty in particular. I was sad to say goodbye to my new buddy. After we came home, I could not stop thinking of my furry friend. So I went on our local animal shelter website just to see who was adoptable. Just to see!

The funny thing is, one particular male cat named Buddy Boy (worst name ever) caught my eye and I sweet talked Michael into going to the shelter with me for a meet and greet. Well…Buddy Boy and I didn’t get along. Long story short, although he initially sat in my lap and let me pet him, apparently he hates belly rubs. He hissed and ran away from me (scratching my hand on the way down). Plan foiled.

I was super sad, but then…then!…this sweet little girl kitty climbed into my lap all on her own.

Meet Nutmeg, aka the new love of my life.

Nutmeg

And it was absolutely love at first sight. She climbed up in my lap, let me pet her, tried to climb into my purse and leave with me, curled up in my lap some more and started purring.

We adopted her that same day. 😊 Because she hadn’t been spayed yet, we couldn’t take her home until the following week, when we brought her home complete with the famed cone of shame.

The cone of shame.

I love this sweet kitty so much! I have become 100% a cat lady and it’s now my life’s mission to make the newest member of our little family the happiest kitty on the planet.

She loves her trees. Yes, multiple trees.

Nutmeg is a domestic shorthair and around one year old. She was brought in as a stray (or a “trash cat,” as I affectionately called her). She weighed a paltry 3 lbs when we brought her home, then weighed 5 lbs at her first vet check-up. She has beautiful, unique coloring and omg I am just over the moon in love with this girl.

Baby's first Christmas.

When we first brought her home, she was understandably cautious and a little skittish. But in the few months since, we’ve earned her trust and she’s really showing her personality now. She’s a total goober—really silly—but so sweet. She’s also a lap kitty (though occasionally, she needs some alone time), which I’m so grateful for because I love snuggling with her. She’s very playful; her favorite toys are anything with feathers, anything remotely resembling a mouse, and cardboard. She LOVES to chew cardboard.

She sleeps like a human sometimes.

Losing our pup Orion was so rough, especially since he was our first pet to pass away. But in a sense, it was somewhat easier to grieve because we still had Autumn. Then when we lost Autumn last spring, it was absolutely devastating for both of us, particularly me, since I had raised them since they were puppies. Add to that my precarious mental health situation this past year, and I was in a pretty dark place.

Having this new member of our family has made a world of difference. It’s a learning experience for us, since we’ve only raised dogs in the past. Cats are definitely not the same as dogs! And despite what the cat behavior books say, Miss Nutmeg does enjoy belly rubs (just not all the time).

I’m so thankful that Nutmeg chose us and I look forward to every new thing she’s teaching us every day. 💗

Lending a paw.

In my next post, I’ll update you on the ongoing, excellent adventure (sarcasm alert!) that is the current state of my mental health.

Hello from the Other Side.

It’s been a while! I’m not sure if anyone still reads this and truth be told, even I forgot that I had this blog for a minute. How about a catch-up?

Shenandoah Trip

Back in October, Michael and I took a trip up to the Virginia side of the Shenandoah Valley area. We don’t take many trips together, so this was our first proper getaway in about 11 years of living together and 13 years of being a couple. It was so nice to get away from everyday life and just relax.

Sunny farm view.

We stayed in an Airbnb located on a lovely farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Basically, I wanted to feel like I was in one of the small-town romance novels that I love so much.

Sunset at the farm.

Other than its human owners, the farm was occupied by miniature horses, donkeys, cows (actually, I think that was the next-door farm, but who’s nitpicking?), and a few adorable farm cats that I simply fell in love with.

Stunning sunset at the farm.

The views from the farm were amazing. Sunset, sunrise, and a million stars in the night sky. It was the most at peace I’d felt in a while (stink bugs and spiders notwithstanding).

Sun through clouds aka God Rays.

The weekend that we were in town happened to be the same weekend as the town’s Oktoberfest/Fall Festival. So, imagine an autumn harvest Hallmark movie…but realistic, with more normal-looking people and fewer polished Canadian locales. (Why are Hallmark movies always filmed in Canada? I digress.) Michael had fun sampling local brews and voting for his favorites. I enjoyed pretending to frolic in the same neighborhood as the characters in my romance novels. I even met some alpacas.

Alpacas!

After the festival, we spent an afternoon in Shenandoah National Park, driving along Skyline Drive. The leaves hadn’t quite hit their peak fall foliage yet, but the views were stunning just the same.

View from Skyline Drive.

The next time we visit, I definitely want to wait a little later in the season to see the leaves in their full autumn glory.

View from Skyline Drive.

Next post, I’ll update you on what else I’ve been up to since our trip. Stay tuned. 🙂

Misty farm view.

Sparking Joy with Less

I have a problem with clutter. Not to hoarder levels, but I’m definitely a collector of:

  • Shelves upon shelves of unread books.
  • Plastic bins full of yarn, shoved in a closet.
  • Clothes that are put away but which I never wear.
  • Boxes upon boxes of shoes, despite the fact that I wear the same two pairs of shoes every week.
  • So. Many. Books.

When it first hit the bestseller list, I read Marie Kondo’s treatise on sparking joy, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Did I agree with all of her ideas? Definitely not. I refused to dump all of my clothes in one big pile, handling them one by one. I did go through my closet and drawers and donate/trash a bunch of items, however. Did I ask myself if each item “sparked joy”? Not necessarily. But I got real with myself and decided what was worth keeping or not. I also refused to thank the items I was letting go of prior to them leaving the house—I just didn’t see the point of personifying my stinky old shoes that way, but hey, whatever works for people, right?

The problem with becoming clutter-free is that it’s an ongoing process and that’s the part I have trouble with: keeping up with it. Keeping things tidy. The process. Try as I might, I struggle with “collecting” a little too enthusiastically and find myself needing to purge every few months when my book stash reaches critical mass (along with my other collections). 

I ran across Francine Jay’s book, Lightly, when it was the Audible Daily Deal recently. I saw that she had another book, The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify. Unlike Kondo’s book, Jay’s book seemed more straightforward and practical, so I bought the audiobook, put in my earbuds, and got to work.

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

I don’t know if I was just in the perfect mood to declutter or if the book is solely responsible, but I decluttered SO much while I listened to this book. I’m talking three trash bags full of clothes and shoes for donation, not to mention A LOT of books (six bankers boxes worth). Plus a bag or two of things that just needed to be recycled or thrown away.

As with Kondo’s method, I haven’t put everything in Jay’s book to practice. Jay emphasizes the importance of putting things away immediately after you’ve used them, rather than leaving them out. For example, not having a lot of random things on the coffee table or nightstand all the time. For me, that doesn’t quite work, because too often out of sight equals out of mind, which means if everything is put away I forget that certain things are there to begin with. But I get the concept and it’s part of that process I’ve always struggled with. I can definitely put certain things away immediately (dishes, clothes, mail) but my books are pretty non-negotiable in terms of being out in each room.

Something else I love about Jay’s method is the idea of having a place for everything. Before, our mail would sit on the dining room table, piling up, when most of it was junk that could be recycled immediately anyway. It even got to the point where we had so much clutter on the dining room table that we stopped using it for its intended purpose. Now, the mail gets dealt with every day and the table is clear. We use it as an actual table again! For sitting at! And having meals on! What a concept! And any mail that needs to be looked at more closely or dealt with later goes in a small basket. Just thinking about that tidy basket versus the table, previously covered in junk, gives me joy.

I still have a ton of work to do—while the closet is tidier, it’s not as clear as I’d like it to be. Next up are my plastic bins of knitwear, purses/bags, and who knows what else. I also have a second closet that’s stuffed with yarn I never use and things I’ve held onto for a decade or longer…but why? Just to sit in a dark closet? I cannot wait to tackle that space next.

I’m not sure if the full minimalist lifestyle is for me. Jay, the self-proclaimed Miss Minimalist, shares that she and her husband live in a sparsely furnished bedroom. That’s fine for some, but personally I like having a big, comfy bed and lots of storage for clothes that I do actually wear.

All this being said, Jay’s book really resonated with me because I love the idea of having fewer things with the intention of creating more space. There’s something freeing about that concept. My challenge is to resist the urge to fill that new space with more random stuff, but like I said—it’s a process. And the things that are worth keeping are the ones that are truly meaningful to me, which means that when I look around, I see things that—dare I say it?—spark joy, rather than panic or stress.

You Need to Calm Down

I’m a little obsessed with self-help books. Not so much actually finishing them, but starting them with the best of intentions and inevitably becoming distracted by a new one. I guess they don’t need to be read cover to cover—you can dip in any time and potentially benefit if the book is any good. Sometimes I actually finish one, though.

Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight

I’m a big fan of Sarah Knight’s books and irreverent, sweary self-help approach. On the other hand, Calm the F*ck Down didn’t shed much light on my own struggles with anxiety. Although the book purports itself to be for people exactly like me, I didn’t glean much insight from it.

The book deals mainly with generalities and my main take-away from it is the need to alter my perceptions in the face of angst or crisis. In other words, examine the situation and ask myself how much of it is within my control, then act accordingly. If this sounds pretty basic, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, I wasn’t left with much of an impression of the book other than this. There’s also a Choose Your Own Adventure (Disaster) portion of the book that provides hypotheticals and possible solutions, but I found this section both tedious and repetitive and I skimmed a lot of it.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book, especially after loving Knight’s first book, The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. For people who have clinical anxiety, you’d probably be better off skipping this and seeing your therapist instead, as you likely won’t gain any new insight into how to better manage your condition. For casual readers of self-help and everyone else, you might find helpful information here.

Dwight Yoakam as Therapy

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Dwight Yoakam in concert for the first time. 🎉 Originally, he was supposed to play a different venue in a neighboring city and I hadn’t planned on going. Then the show was moved to another venue and tickets were still available, so I figured why not?

Norfolk Scope, home of the Norfolk Admirals. Not where the concert was held, but the Scope is much more visually interesting, imo. The concert was next door.
Fountain in front of the Chrysler Hall

The awesome part (other than seeing him live, obvs) is that our tickets were upgraded and we ended up pretty close to the stage. He and his band sounded great, as did the opening act, The Cadillac Three. Despite the fact that Dwight didn’t play my fave, Ain’t That Lonely Yet, it was a really good show.

DWIGHT YOAKAM OMG

I only took a couple of photos during the whole show. A lot of people had their phones out the entire time and I fear I’m becoming one of those annoying “Put your phones away and enjoy the experience!” geezers. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Why therapy? Well…having anxiety affects every aspect of my life and I tend to be a home body…to the extreme. Obviously, I have to leave the house to go to work. But if I never had to leave the house, I probably wouldn’t. I’d happily stay inside, huddled with my books and streaming services, while food and other supplies are delivered to me. That is my dream.

But apparently it’s not the healthiest, so my therapist wants me to get out of the house once in a while and Do Things. Like go for a walk or take in a concert. And I did it! I actually #LeftTheHouseZOMG. And I really had fun while seeing an awesome show put on by one of my favorite country musicians ever.

Baby steps.

Red Food, Green Food: Noom Review

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay. Most definitely a red food.

Disclaimer: This is my experience with the Noom program/app. Your mileage may vary. No one sue me, please.

I have a love/hate relationship with my body, specifically my weight.

Several years ago, I decided to lose weight. I started using Myfitnesspal and tried counting calories. It was fine, but I didn’t seem to be losing weight very quickly. I switched to Weight Watchers (WW for the newbies), which some friends were doing, with success. Ultimately, I lost about 30 lbs—the lowest weight I’ve been in a long time.

Several years and a few mental health issues later, I’m close to the heaviest I’ve ever been. My doctor didn’t say it to my face, but she used the word obese in my notes. More specifically, obese: when you are overweight. Very helpful. I also had a previous doctor point out that I’d gained quite a bit of weight back in the past year. Then she flipped over my chart, drew a circle, and drew smaller circles inside.

“This is your plate. This section should be vegetables…”

I tuned her out at this point. I should have told her to f off, honestly, but hindsight, 20/20, etc. I ended up switching doctors.

Two months ago when I went in for a routine medication check, my blood pressure was high. Really high. Pre-hypertension level high. I guess that spooked me, because I decided to try to lose weight again.

I’d been seeing ads for Noom on Instagram and on tv, so I decided to sign up for a free trial. The program is based on cognitive behavior therapy, which seems to be a good fit for me, at least when it comes to talk therapy. I tried it for five weeks and focused on exercise as well as eating healthier. I lost five pounds. Good start. Except I’ve realized something: tracking every single food that goes in my mouth makes my anxiety even worse.

Noom uses an odd system of classifying foods: green foods (fruits, vegetables, things that are generally good for you); yellow foods (not great but not awful, have these in moderation); and you guessed it, red foods (basically anything that I’d actually want to eat in reality). Then they contradict themselves by saying that there’s no such thing as a good food or a bad food. After telling me that foods are red, yellow, and green. As in stop, yield, and go? Color me confused.

Noom uses a lot of therapy-based articles, which I loved at first. Until the articles became super technical and started throwing around scientific terms that I in no way understood. The articles are written in a very cutesy way that overuses hashtags far too often, but in the beginning I found the information helpful. Now, it’s just too much to keep up with.

Then there’s the group. I’ve never been a joiner—there’s a reason I used to do the online Weight Watchers program—but I gave it a try. The group annoyed me to no end. The leader was appropriately motivational, but the others in the group didn’t seem to understand the concept of keeping topics threaded. So many random comments and no way to keep track of which conversation we were meant to be having. I kind of gave up on the group when the leader merged two groups into one in an effort to keep everyone motivated. Coincidentally, this merge occurred after I noticed a lot of comments from people expressing their frustration with slow or no weight loss.

Everyone is assigned a goal specialist, who is different from the group leader. This person works with you one-on-one. I liked my goal specialist just fine, but didn’t really feel compelled to continue the program just because of her (encouraging enough as she was).

Long story short, I’m cancelling Noom. Well, it will be cancelled after my first four-month billing period is over, which I’m now realizing is a pretty sneaky way to do your billing. So now I’m stuck with this app and program that I’m no longer using because food tracking makes me a frantic person and does nothing to help my already bad anxiety.

So what next? I don’t really know, but programs like Weight Watchers and Noom just aren’t for me.

Hello, world.

Welcome.

I’ve gone and done it again. Started what must be my umpteenth personal blog. I miss having the ability to share my thoughts in long form beyond a tweet (I’m barely on Twitter anymore), an Instagram caption (I have way too much to say lately), or Facebook post (I really should just delete my profile already).

I’ve gone back and forth trying to decide if blogs are still relevant in 2019, but here goes nothing. If you’re here, thanks for reading. Hope you’ll stick around.